Exercise And The Brain
We all know that exercise is good for you. We all know that exercise builds stronger and healthier muscles. But did you know that exercise benefits your brain too?
Exercising at an optimal rate (not maximum, but optimal) will place your heart rate in the proper target zone. When your heart rate is in this target zone, it starts to create chemical reactions in your body. These chemicals are released into your blood and carried through your body and brain. They are responsible for helping you to feel happier, be more alert, focus, create new brain cells and learn. Studies have shown that physical exercise is capable of helping to balance your body's chemicals and in turn battle things like stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, and attention deficit.
Diving into each one of these areas and how exercise affects that area specifically are topics for another day; for now, let's stick to a simple guideline to work on. "Your brain works best when you are fit." This statement is scary to a lot of people. Fit doesn't mean underwear model. Fit doesn't mean that you compete in body building competitions, run races, or are capable of fitting into your high school graduation or wedding clothes. Fit means healthy. For the physical side of being healthy, here is what we want to shoot for. We want our heart rate to be in a medium to high-intensity target zone. Based on the research of Dr. John J Ratey, author of "SPARK: The revolutionary science of exercise and the brain", the goal is to be in a medium intensity target zone for 50-60 min, 4 times a week AND a high intensity target zone for 35-45 min, 2 times a week. Seems unrealistic? How about if you do ZERO days a week, shoot to be active twice next week – that's it, just twice. If you're already active two or more times a week, try for one day more until you reach 6 days. If you are active for zero minutes at a time, shoot for 20 min workouts, or if you already do 30 min at a time try 35 or 40 min and work your way up to longer workouts as you find time. A little is good, and more is better.†† For guidelines on calculating your target heart rate zone see below.
Calculating your target heart rate zones.
Calculate your MAX HEART RATE.
Take 220 and subtract your age.
(EX. Age 45: 220-45 = 175 Max Heart Rate)
Calculate your Light Intensity Activity Zone
Multiply your Max Heart Rate (calculated in step 1) by .50 and then by .65
(Ex. 175 X .50 = 88 and 175 X .65 = 114)
If your heart rate is between 88 and 114 BPM (beats per minute) while you're exercising, you're in a light intensity activity zone.
Calculate your Medium Intensity Activity Zone
Multiply your Max Heart Rate (calculated in step 1) by .65 and then by .75
(Ex. 175 X .65 = 114 and 175 X .75 = 131)
If you're 45 and your heart rate is between 114 and 131 BPM while you're exercising, you're in a medium intensity activity zone.
Calculate your High Intensity Activity Zone
Multiply your Max Heart Rate (calculated in step 1) by .75 and .90
(Ex. 175 X .75 = 131 and 175 X .90 = 157)
If your heart rate is between 131 and 157 BPM while you're exercising, you're in a high intensity activity zone.
Although possible in some cases, I am not claiming exercise alone is a solution for mental health issues in every case. Always consult your physician before taking action towards treating a medical diagnosis with alternative methods than prescribed.
Physical activity is only good within it's means. Over exercising is dangerous and counter-beneficial to your health. Always consult your physician before engaging in physical activity programs.
Resources: Information for this article is gathered and paraphrased from the book "SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John J. Ratey, MD