Sixpack for the brain
"Get moving! And your brain says thank you", claims Dr. Manuela Macedonia in her German bestseller entitled "Beweg dich! Und dein Gehrin sagt Danke". We met the neuroscientist engaged in her favorite occupation.
Yesterday lecturing to an audience of 200, today posing in a dirndl for the cover of the magazine "Die Oberösterreicherin". And now a relaxed jog around Lake Zell. The native Italian stylishly dressed in a smart floral jacket approaches nimbly, her pony tail swinging cheekily beneath a black baseball cap, her gait as light and easy as the reasons for exercise listed in her book.
Ms. Macedonia, why is it so important that not only the body but also the brain keeps in good shape?
Exercise has a systemic effect since it activates a number of processes that keep our brain fit and efficient; like a car that gets regular maintenance.
Which processes do you mean?
All the ones that motion activates. What is especially interesting is that the so-called nerve growth factor is also released, a substance that strenghtens our brain cells and their connections, a kind of fertilizer if you like. If we don't have enough, memory capacity becomes diminished and we are more susceptible to illnesses like depression, eating disorders, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis.
So, sport is the best medicine?
It can be sport or simply a walk - the main thing is physical activity to keep the brain healthy. Every type of exercise improves cognitive skills, promotes creative thinking, prevents dementia, and lifts the spirits.
During physical exercise our brain switches to physical exertion mode so that all our physical resources can be mobilized. Simultaneously, focused thinking is unconsciously switched off. This allows the brain to continue working and look for solutions for certain issues by checking all the storage places, nooks and crannies. And then it suddenly comes up with an unexpected idea.
And how does exercise influence our mood?
It protects our psyche by releasing important neurotransmitters such as dopamine which makes us feel happy, or serotonin, the substance that makes us feel more balanced and tends to be deficient in people suffering from depression.
Is it true that exercise can help prevent dementia?
Yes. Our brain has a cleansing system that removes metabolic waste products. As long as we keep moving these processes remain active as no dead ceels or harmful substances are stored on the brain's surface, which could over the long-term damage the brain and make us more susceptible to dementia.
Does that mean we should do as much sport as possible?
People who move a lot are known to have a more efficient brain. However, when exercise is too extreme or intense the stress hormone cortisol is released, and this is harmful to the brain. So, the happy medium is a lot of exercise but without pressure.
Dr. Manuela Macedonia
conducts research as a neuroscientist at Johannes Kepler University Linz and at the Max-Planck Institute in Leipzig. The memory expert is a passionate winter sports enthusiast and loves running. She combined the two to create skrunning; and as she points out she does not exercise for her figure but for her brain.