As an exercise physiologist and retired teacher and now a board game designer, I’ve always believed that keeping both our kids’ minds and bodies’ active were critical in their development. Long time ago people knew that a healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy mind. Living by the famous Greek philosopher Thales, Mens sana in corpore sano, “ A sound mind in a healthy body” is a great place to start. It can be construed to mean that only a healthy body can produce or sustain a healthy mind. Research continues to show that those who participate in regular physical activity have better cognitive performance and more sustained attention spans than those with a sedentary lifestyle. Keeping our children physically active on a regular or even daily routine can have lifetime benefits. By making exercise fun and engaging, we can embody this lifestyle on to our children so that they can have the lifetime benefits of both a healthy mind and body.
The human brain benefits from both physical and mental exercise. Physical exercise helps the brain by improving circulation and memory, and balance, coordination and reflexes are all improved with exercise.
Physical exercise helps the brain by increasing the flow of blood, which delivers vital oxygen and glucose to the brain. Exercise that increases the heart rate also helps to pump even more oxygen and glucose to the brain. According to the Franklin Institute, physical exercise has even been shown to stimulate the growth of cerebral blood vessels. Physical exercise also stimulates the brain’s synapses by preserving the number of acetylcholine receptors found at the junction of muscle and nerve. Testing has shown that active people have more receptors in their brains than inactive people.
Physical exercise helps to improve your mood because it increases the production of serotonin, a critical neurotransmitter found in the brain that is associated with good health and mental well- being. By increasing serotonin levels in the brain, exercise works as a natural antidepressant. Physical exercise also helps to reduce stress levels and anxiety. Aerobic exercise and strength training work to improve your mood. Research has shown that exercise alone was just as effective as either the use of medication or the medication-exercise combination in battling depression.
Even moderate physical exercise, such as walking, can also boost memory functions, learning and the ability for abstract reasoning.
The human brain was once thought to be complete at birth and not capable of growing new brain cells, but a 1999 Salk Institute study showed that the adult human brain is capable of producing new cells. This process is called neurogenesis. More recent studies are studying how exactly the brain builds new cells. Results are showing that physical exercise helps build brains. It’s thought that exercise stimulates the production of a brain protein called Noggin, which drives the production of neurogenesis and stem cells. Exercises increase the brain’s ability to grow new cells, and the more one exercises, the more new brain cells you can grow.
According to the National Institutes of Health, being physically active may help to delay or even prevent the loss of cognitive function that is associated with age and disease. People who don’t take any form of physical exercise are twice as likely as active people to develop diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Exercise seems to slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay, much as it does with muscles.
The usage of exercise in conjunction with brain fitness increases your chances of increasing cognitive functions. Interestingly, differences between exercise styles, such as opting for cycling over running, is associated with an enhanced brain function during and after working out. Ballroom dancing, an activity with both physical and mental demands has had a higher impact on cognitive functioning over exercise or mental tasks alone, indicating that the best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy.
So since this is a game magazine, it would be great if we could engage our children in games that made us move, exercise and enjoy. A regular routine of exercise and playing games that everyone can take on for the duration will provide opportunities to ensure our children have both healthy bodies and minds.
Reisa Schwartzman, Griddly Games