Maintaining a healthy mind and body

Posted on: 26th April 2012

You may already have been told that physical exercise will help your mood, but it’s easy if you’re feeling down to dismiss this idea. I hope that this article can help change your mind, quite literally.

Our brains are much more like a muscle than you might think, in that they can suffer from wasting and it can also become more powerful and retain more information with regular exercise. You might not know that exercise, apart from offering a distraction, builds resources in the brain. Increases in endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – vital neurotransmitters in the brain – can all come as a result of exercise, and will help improve how you feel about yourself. Regularly done, exercise can help reduce feelings of helplessness, panic attacks or the feeling of being trapped, or stuck in a rut. It can help reduce chronic pain levels too, for the same reasons.

For some people, this effect may be just as powerful as anti-depressants or even more so, without the ‘fuzzy-headedness’ or confusion that these drugs can cause. Studies have shown that exercise helps students get better grades, as a result of those neurotransmitters & their effect on stimulating growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus area of our brains. This is the part of the brain that degenerates in Alzheimer’s disease, and is largely responsible for our memory.

When under stress, our bodies release cortisol. High levels of cortisol can make decision making and recognition of threats difficult. This is why we may feel unable to make decisions when we’re stressed. This cortisol is responsible for damaging neurons in the hippocampus, resulting in memory loss, an inability to make decisions, and being locked into negative thoughts. Exercise helps protect the brain cells from this cortisol, and can help repair any damage already done. The type of exercise is not important, and may be dancing, swimming, Yoga, T’ai Chi, riding a bicycle, or just taking a brisk walk every day. It’s all good, as long as it is a regular part of your week.

Continuing an exercise routine when you are feeling down is easier than starting afresh, and regular exercise will help prevent relapse, so getting started whenever you feel able is really important (make sure your doctor says it’s OK first). It’s great for your psychological health, as well as physical health, and will help control cholesterol levels too – very important for your heart.

There is also very good evidence that exercising our brains with various kinds of puzzles can help us be creative and also results in new neural links and improved mental abilities. These could be crosswords, Sudoku, lateral thinking exercises, Rubik’s Cube type physical puzzles, or even some kinds of video or online games. In making time for these mental exercises, we may well find ourselves distracted from our day to day worries, and find satisfaction in coming up with solutions. This is a kind of brain training that can help anyone, but may be of more benefit to those of us less able to do much physical exercise. The combination of both physical & mental exercise can be the most beneficial way of all. Being HIV positive today, even if you have severe treatment side-effects or symptoms, doesn’t have to dominate your mental or physical health.

Thanks to Phil for this blog

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