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Another Year Older, Another Year Wiser?

This year I decided that I want to exercise more, but not because I want to lose weight! I hear many resolutions at the beginning of a new year to shed unwanted kilos. These are made with the notion that effort will be required, with resolve for active pursuit. There’s a good chance that you know someone who began the year with this goal, and their plan of attack may well have included exercise. I’m not writing with any advice on maintaining this resolution into the new year, but instead am wanting to put a new spin on why a sustained exercise regime may be important to you over the coming year.

I’m interested in enhancing my ability to absorb and retain information. This doesn’t come through as a common resolution, particularly in relation to an exercise program. As in the title of this post, accumulation of wisdom is often assumed to be resultant from being around for a while! Yet even though we have embarked on a new year with fresh expectations to change our world, reality is that most of us return to surroundings of familiar stimuli, generally in the form of routine. On the whole, routine is a positive aspect to lifestyle – it affords us proficiency and efficiency in what we do. However, too much routine also has the potential to rob us of learning capacity through understimulation of the brain’s learning centre. This may be the product of carrying out days and weeks fulfilling familiar tasks that do not challenge the mind with enough stimulus to form growth of new brain cells.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein found in the brain with the role of building the circuitry of cells by which the brain functions. It is responsible for ensuring adequate storage space for any new information that is to be taken on board. In the absence of BDNF, new information is rejected from the brain in the same way that items are rejected from an overflowing storage locker. It simply won’t fit! Deficiency of BDNF causes cellular breakdown within the brain, which brings about a scattering of messages and a reduced ability to focus.

Clinical evidence is now showing us that exercise not only increases the presence of BDNF in the brain, but that there is a close correlation with the accumulation of exercise. Higher exercise levels (frequency and duration) are associated with higher levels of BDNF in the Hippocampus – the long term storage area of the brain where memories are filed – effectively creating more storage space in the brain via the addition of new storage units. So the essence of learning is much the same as the resolution to lose weight – effort is required to make yourself smarter! Don’t leave it to chance through the ticking away of another year in the hope that time on earth will bring about wisdom. Exercising is a proactive approach to build and fill brain cells with new information that will ensure you end the year wiser than you began.

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