Mighty muscles, brilliant brain
Today’s blog is inspired by the thought provoking saying “your brain shrinks down to your daily life”.
Most of us like the idea of looking ‘toned’. Long strong muscles in our arms, legs, and torso.
But what about your brain? That pinky grey jelly like mass between your ears is full of maps. Maps of every part of your body. In a fascinating research study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17110591/ participants fingers were clamped together so that they could not move their fingers separately. The brain maps that represented their fingers shrunk within 30 to 60 minutes of their fingers being stuck together. Not only does the brain region representing the body part shrink, the less it is used, the margins also become blurry or smudged.
Fortunately, the research also showed that when the clamps were removed and the participants could wiggle their fingers independently, within an hour the brain map was expanding again, the edges becoming sharper.
What does this mean for you?
When you sit, sit, and sit some more this lack of body movement is literally shrinking your brain. Not ideal I’m sure you’ll agree.
This lack of input to the brain is sometimes referred to as “sensory malnutrition”.
And it gets worse. As the brain maps shrink and become blurry, you experience reduced fine motor control, your ability to move fluidly is diminished, and your tissue de-conditions which activates your bodies protection system. That means pain and stiffness!! Plus, your balance is affected. When your ability to balance is excellent you are at less risk of falling and further injuring yourself AND you feel more stable or grounded.
Pain (especially chronic or long term pain) is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage, instead it is a “low usage indicator” or a “damage warning system”. It is a sign that your body’s protection system has been activated. While this can be useful in the short term, it can create misery if it’s not switched off again.
Conversely, if you MOVE frequently (with moderate intensity), your brain becomes thicker, denser, and more toned, along with your muscles. Your brain is more responsive. And your risk of chronic pain is lessened. Who is keen for that? I know I am.
Perhaps not surprisingly your body and brain thrive on variety and variability.
You may have heard of HRV or Heart rate variability. This does not refer to changes in your actual heart rate, instead it refers to the time interval between heart beats. There are a variety of apps you can use to monitor your HRV. It’s a valuable marker of your nervous systems ability to rev up when faced with a stressor, and more importantly, it’s ability to quickly recover, providing you with that lovely relaxed calm state again.
Nature walks, slow deep breathing and mediation are all known techniques for improving your HRV.
So, it was apt that after completing a draft of this blog I walked along the beach, at a deliberately slower pace than usual, focusing on my senses. As the frothy invigorating sea foam lapped at my ankles it occurred to me that movement of the ocean creates a healthy environment whereas stagnant pond water can harbour bad bacteria, breed mosquitoes and generally be unhealthy. Our planet thrives on movement as does our self.
What will you do today to move, immerse yourself in nature paying attention to all your senses? Toning your muscles AND expanding your brain at the same time.
Wishing you a day filled to the brim and overflowing with vitality,