Active body, healthy brain

Regular physical activity allows us not only to look after one’s body and general health, but it also supports day-to-day functioning of the brain of people of all ages – children, adults and seniors. Being active improves our well-being and reduces the risk of mental and neurological diseases. Scientists have proven that the brain of people who are physically active regenerates better and ages more slowly.

The brain is one of the most complex organs which coordinates majority of processes taking place in a human body. It is also one of the fastest growing tissues which requires constant stimulation in order to work right.

CHILD’S BRAIN: Physical activity supports development of youngest kids
At birth, a baby’s brain has the size of one-third of the brain of a healthy adult person. By three months it grows 1 cm a day and at 5 years of age it has the same weight as an adult’s brain. Scientists from the Simon Fraser University estimate that the brain’s ageing process starts at the age of 24. Until then it should reach its full potential which depends both on mental as well as physical training.

– Every year there are more and more studies which indicate that one of the most significant factors supporting the brain’s development and efficiency is physical activity at every stage of life. In our youth, physical activity supports the process of learning and at a later stage it helps us maintain mental acuity as long as possible – says Dr Sylwia Nowacka-Dobosz from the Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw.  Scientists from the University of Illinois have proven that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity walking has a significant impact on the improvement of the activity of children’s brain and their results in school tests that verify their counting, writing and reading skills. The biggest difference among people taking part in the study referred to the reading test. On average, children who took a walk before the test received one grade higher than students who weren’t active.

Physical activity increases the blood flow within the body.  Together with the blood, different tissues – including the brain – receive nutritious substances and oxygen which stimulate its activity and support concentration as well as creativity – emphasises Dr Sylwia Nowacka Dobosz.

ADULT’S BRAIN: Happiness and creativity come with activity
– Due to the fact that activity, especially sports, requires some effort, the nervous system starts producing chemical substances such as endorphins or serotonin (called a happiness hormone) which aim at relieving biological stress. Their tasks include easing pain and mental tension during and after exercise. We experience their impact on our body as a better mood, state of relaxation or even euphoria – adds the expert.

Benefits coming from physical activity are more and more often appreciated by employers who support their employees’ good mood and creativity through sport. In 2018 as many as 46.5% employees of companies that provide non-financial benefits received support in the area of sport and recreation in the form of vouchers or sports cards (based on the “Additional benefits in the eyes of employees” 2018 report).

– Physical activity, undertaken consciously and systematically, allows us to enjoy good health as well as physical and mental acuity longer, makes us resistant to stress and enhances our efficiency at work. Studies show that happy employees are more creative by 87% – stresses Adam Radzki, Management Board Member at Benefit Systems, the company that created a popular MultiSport card.

Physical activity not only stimulates the production of happiness hormones but also helps reduce the level of cortisol and adrenaline produced in stress situations. Systematic training supports keeping these substances on the right level. Their increased values are observed in depression, for example.

– In one of the surveys, after less than two weeks of regular daily marching symptoms of depression among people suffering from this disease were significantly reduced. The best results are generated by aerobic physical activity that lasts 30-45 minutes and is undertaken on daily basis or every two days. One can start from traditional walking or Nordic walking. A good alternative is a treadmill or a stationary bicycle. Nevertheless, every type of physical activity is a stimulus for our body. The Blumenthal’s study of 2007 shows that physical exercise has an impact on people suffering from depression as efficiently as drug therapy – says Dr Nowacka-Dobosz.

SENIOR’S BRAIN: Physical activity reduces risk of depression and age-related diseases
Low level or lack of physical activity relates to a higher risk and more difficult course of neurological diseases characteristic for old age, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Multiannual scientific researches have proven that one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease is an insufficient level of physical activity. People who exercise at least a few times a week suffer from Alzheimer’s disease less often than those who lead a sedentary, inactive lifestyle – notices Dr Sylwia Nowacka-Dobosz. Pascoe and Parker scientific analysis of 2018 shows that physical activity and aptly chosen physical exercises can be considered a factor that protects people from dementia at a young age.

For many years it was believed that the production of new neurons is not possible after the end of the prenatal period. Advancement of science and further studies have proven that a human brain has an exceptional ability to regenerate. During physical activity not only the concentration of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline is increased. Our body also produces brain-derived neurotrophic factor responsible for regenerating old and creating new neurons. This protein is essential for developing and repairing the nervous system. Its cells can be found, among others, in the hippocampus – structure of the brain responsible for emotions as well as ability to learn and remember.

Thirteen-year-long Northern Manhattan Study conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Miami in Florida has proven that the brains of seniors who exercise regularly and with adequate intensity are on average 10 years younger than the brains of their peers who are physically inactive or don’t exercise enough.

The World Health Organisation recommends children between 5 and 17 years od age at least 60 minutes of planned moderate-intensity physical activity. Adults between 18 and 64 years of age should spend at least 150 minutes a week on moderate-intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes on high-intensity physical activity. According to the MultiSport Index 2018 Report as many as 38% of Poles do not undertake any form of physical activity, not even once a month.

– It is worth looking after our brain, especially that according to a survey conducted by the European Brain Council one in three Europeans suffer or will suffer from a brain disease. According to the World Health Organisation, by 2030 brain diseases will become the biggest health risk leading to disability or death – sums up Dr Sylwia Nowacka-Dobosz.


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