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Activity 1 - Get Physical
 

Cartoon girl running on a treadmill (illustration) Get PhysicalTone up:  Increasingly scientists have realised that being physically active is like taking a tonic for your brain. When you start exercising, blood rushes around your body, including your brain. Never one to miss an opportunity, your brain takes advantage of all this added oxygen and nutrients and refreshes itself, building new neurons and connections between cells. This builds up your brain reserves, which are backup funds for a rainy day, such as when damage occurs.  Being aerobically fit is associated with faster information processing and preserved brain tissue volume in MS. This suggests that being active may help to preserve brain health.

But you don’t need to be a gym bunny or buy fancy sports gear to collect brain bonuses. Activities that get your body moving like walking, gardening, cycling or housework all count when it comes to boosting brain health. As long as it is aerobic exercise, which means moderately exerting yourself by, say swimming, playing the drums or walking, rather than sprinting or lifting (anaerobic exercise), you will reap the rewards.

A six-month trial found that an aerobic walking programme of 45 minutes three times per week resulted in an added buzz of activity in brain cells involved in attention. A longer study that used brain imaging to look at changes in the brain resulting from exercise supported this apparent healthy uptick.

Everyone needs regular aerobic exercise and people with MS are no exception.

Fringe Benefits

Aren’t you glad when you get active? Exercise and physical activity reduce stress and release endorphins that make us feel good. Some people describe how they feel after endorphin release as a natural high and even report that they experience pain relief, a decrease in fatigue and an uplift in mood. How much exercise you have to do to get that natural high varies from person to person, some people experience it after 10 minutes, for others it takes 30 minutes.

We can’t immediately see it, but physical activity also has direct benefits on brain tissue and how it works, and exercise also improves heart and mental health, reducing levels of depression and anxiety.

Staying active can help you to remain independent and carry out everyday activities. Exercise may lower muscle atrophy or wasting, it could improve your balance and it can help with bladder control and weight loss. Making time for daily exercise is a great way to manage stress and is an effective way to improve mental alertness, concentration and overall cognitive function. Physical activity can also improve sleep, which can be disturbed when you have MS and being physically active may help with fatigue and give you more energy to do the things you want to do – not less.

On the flip side, low levels of physical activity are associated with increased risk of dementia in later life, so it is really important to find a way to be physically active, whatever your ability or mobility. Work with your health team to find a physical activity programme that you enjoy and that works for you.

Mice and Men:

To get a better insight into how brains work, scientists tend to use mice and rats as ‘models’. Their brains are obviously different from ours, but there are plenty of similarities and science can learn a lot from what these animal models do.

Let’s look at what happened when mice got a new pad to live in with lots of things to engage them. Scientists placed mice in more complex living quarters than your standard lab abode, providing them with more living space, greater social interaction and more physical activity. The researchers were in for a surprise. They found that new neurons, or brain cells, tended to survive at a higher rate in these mice, resulting in more brain growth. What was really surprising though was that, of all the factors in this experiment, physical activity seemed to be most important.

Voluntary exercise on a running wheel led to the survival of as many neurons as all the other enrichment conditions combined! And in another study, middle-aged rats became memory masters when they went swimming for one hour each day.  Studies on humans also suggest that we might also get brain rich through activities such as running, walking, swimming, and dancing.

Why? Well, it could be because the brain gulps more oxygen during physical activity and that this may explain the improvements. Scientists are trying to find new drugs to support brain cell growth, but this is expected to only supplement and not replace activities we can do to help ourselves, so let’s get active!

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Hello Brain For more info on brain health visit Hello Brain
 

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