The chronicles of a Black man running through Harlem in pursuit of rebuilding his business, a sub 3:00 marathon, and a wife - all through the lens of running.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Running To Create a Spark & Build The Brain
Over the year of this blog I've suggested a lot of different books on different aspects of the running. Before I say goodbye I offer a final book suggestion - one that kind of sums it all up for runners of all levels & ages - I am reading it now. A growing body of evidence suggests that running can build the brain. I share with you a forthcoming book, that's it on the left below, "Spark": The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain- which shows how running can boost memory, alleviate stress, enhance intelligence and allay aggression. John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the book's author, says that exercise stimulates our grey matter to produce what he calls "Miracle-Gro" for the brain. "I can't understate how important regular exercise is in improving the function and performance of the brain," he says. "It's such a wonderful medicine." Happiness: Beyond the (potential) mood-lifting effects of fresh air and scenery, evidence suggests that pounding the pavement can also change the way our brains work to make us happier, or even stave off depression. "Exercise is as good as any anti-depressant I know," Ratey claims. Last December, scientists from Yale University wrote in the journal Nature Medicine that regular exertion affects the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for mood. Tests on mice showed that exercise activated a gene there called VGF, which is linked to a "growth factor" chemical involved in the development of new nerve cells. Tests show that this brain activation lifts a person's mood. Participants in one recent German survey were asked to walk quickly on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day over a 10-day period. At the end of the experiment, researchers recorded a significant drop in depression scores. Scientists are now working on a drug that mimics the effects of the VGF gene to market it as an alternative to conventional antidepressants. Stress: stress slows down the gastrointestinal system and reduces appetite, and can overexcite the brain, fuzzing our thought. By responding to or anticipating stress with 30 minutes of running, blood flow to the brain is increased, allowing the body to purge the potentially toxic by-products of stress. According to Ratey, exercise also helps in the long term. "It builds up armies of antioxidants such as Vitamins E and C," he says. "These help brain cells protect us from future stress." Intelligence: Research suggests that exercise boosts intelligence in the very, very young. Experiments on rats at the Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin showed that baby rats born to mothers who were more active during pregnancy had 40 per cent more cells in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for intelligence. If the same is true in humans, we can expect Paula Radcliffe's baby, Isla, to be a genius; Radcliffe was training for the New York marathon until the day before she went in to hospital to be induced – and won the race just nine months after giving birth. Aggression: The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that decides whether you throw a punch or take something on the chin. Reduced activity in the region, a trauma or abnormal development can result in an inability to control violent urges. "This area makes us evaluate the consequences of our actions," Ratey says. "It's the part of the brain that puts the brakes on when the ref makes a terrible decision and you want to beat him up." Exercise increases activity in that area, boosting rational thought, which makesus less likely to lash out. Memory: Most of the competitors at the annual World Memory Championships could hardly be described as the epitome of physical fitness but, according to Ratey and other scientists in the field, a good workout does much to boost recall, especially as we clock up the years. "When we're exercising, we're using nerve cells in the brain which help build up what I call brain fertiliser," he says. Ratey is talking about new research that suggests exercise increases blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for memory, and improves its function. In MRI scans on mice, conducted last year by neurologists at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York, the animals were shown to grow new brain cells in the dentate gyrus, which is affected in age-related memory decline. Research on humans is ongoing but Ratey is convinced that physical activity has a similar effect. He says: "Exercise does more than anything we know of to boost memory." Addiction: The principle is that exercise can stimulate production of the mood-enhancing hormone dopamine, which can, in turn, reduce smokers' dependence on nicotine. "Dopamine works by replacing or satisfying the need for nicotine," Ratey explains. Check out his site & info - read the reviews over at Amazon - this is a great read! Have a terrific day!