Exercise – No Pain No Brain

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Now that I started writing this, I know why I never seemed to get around to it. At 40 years old, I’m sitting here in the worst physical shape of my life… ugh. I haven’t worked out on a regular basis for over 4 years and with 3 young boys and a business, excuses are never in short supply.


When I was a powerlifter, my motivation was my desire to make the World team. I’d pick a contest date, make an 8-12 week plan and then train. I didn’t make a decision to go or not go to the gym each day, after I picked a contest, I never gave myself the option again.


A link to this article will be posted on our Facebook page and I’d love to see some comments about how you stay motivated to exercise… OR if you’re like me right now, then what’s the problem?


“Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.”
– Edward Smith-Stanley (1752-1834) — English statesman, three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom



photo by J.P. Esperanca

This series is about our brains, so let’s get to it.


Let’s start with younger adults

Most of the research around exercise and the brain is focused on aging, so the subjects tend to be 50 and older. However, work done at the University of Otago in New Zealand showed a strong link between exercise and control over reflexive responses in subjects between 18 to 30 years old. Reflexive responses are our actions in response to stimuli in complex situations like driving. The study also found an increase in blood flow. The researchers were actually surprised to see such dramatic results in younger people, who were not originally part of the core experiment.


Another study in Dublin on young adults demonstrated an improvement in face-name matching which involves the hippocampus.


A 6 week study conducted by the University of Ulm in Germany found that running 30 minutes, 3 times per week, significantly improved visuospatial memory performance and positive affect (enjoyment, joy, interest, excitement).


As we get older

The Mayo Clinic in my home state of Minnesota looked at 1324 people ages 50 and up without dementia. They tested for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a step between normal brain function and dementia. It turned out that any frequency of moderate exercise decreased the odds of having MCI during midlife (50-65) by 39% and in late life by 32%.


In Texas, the Cooper Institute followed more than 19,000 individuals starting with an average age of 49 and completing with an average follow-up time of 25 years. Everyone’s fitness was evaluated using a treadmill. They found that those who tested well at midlife were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or Dementia than those who tested poorly.


The Mayo and Texas studies suggests we can be proactive in preventing it, but what about reversing it?


Researchers from the University of Washington worked with 33 people with mild cognitive impairment between the ages of 55 and 85 (avg age 70). They put some on a stretching routine (control group) and the others on an aerobic routine. After 6 months the stretching group tested worse than they did 6 months earlier and the aerobic group tested better. The women did better than the guys, but I’m sure the women aren’t surprised by that.


A study by the University of Illinois took 59 sedentary volunteers between the ages of 60-79 and had them either stretch or do aerobic activity. After 6 months the aerobic group had a significant increase in brain volume (both gray and white matter), but the stretching group did not. Results were measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Mice and rat studies have shown that both learning and neurogenesis (new brain cells) increase with aerobic exercise.


Why does exercise help our brains?

  • Increases brain levels of L-Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is important in mood regulation
  • Better blood flow for increased oxygen, glucose and nutrients and removes toxins
  • Increases brain derived neurotrophic factor, that helps with neurogenesis (aging happens when we lose more than we gain)
  • It helps with stress
  • It helps with sleep


“The way exercise changes our brains is more effective than wine, medicines, and doughnuts…”
John Ratey, author of Spark


I guess it’s time I get off my butt!



Co-Founder of NutritionGeeks, retired USAPL drug-free powerlifter, volunteer youth wrestling coach, father of 3 amazing boys and interested in all things health

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