Your Brain on Exercise. Wedding Bells, too!

Your Brain on Exercise. Wedding Bells, too!

Helloooo Fibromyalgia Companion-land! We’ll get to your brain on exercise in a sec, but first, where have I been? Gittin hitched, that’s where! After more than 10 years, we decided to make it official, what the heck. In truth, I was very happy living in perpetual unmarriedness. It’s not like we weren’t committed to each other but why rock the boat, you know? Life was great.

But then a funny thing happened…he asked.

And I panicked. Ack! Did he really just…? Is he serious? What’re ya doin, man?!?! A bazillion thoughts ran through all at once except for the answer. Neither of us remembers hearing it, exactly, but I must have said yes because we planned a whole wedding that went off without a hitch or a raindrop two weeks ago with our best, most amazing, loving and supportive family and friends. And the whole thing was fun and sweet and so special and…FUN!! Absolutely loved every minute of it. Turns out it was a good thing to rock the boat because it’s completely rocked our world.

Also turns out that when they were handing out superpowers, I lost out on the power to juggle all balls at once. I haven’t figured out yet which superpower I DID receive…surely I didn’t get overlooked completely…so the blog went bouncing off into the twilight for a few weeks, er, months?

Anyway, I send you my love and hope we can pick up where we left off like old friends.

Your Brain on Exercise. What Applies to Aging Could Easily Apply to Fibromyalgia.

Back to your brain on exercise, I read a brief article in a recent issue of Experience Life, my favorite, straightforward health and fitness mag, about the impact of exercise on the aging brain. Of course, it got me thinking about exercise and the fibromyalgia brain since much of the research in cognitive function in fibromyalgia draws comparisons to cognitive function in aging populations.

The article focused on a study out of the University of Edinburgh, which found that physical activity was far more effective at maintaining mental acuity for thinking and memory than crossword puzzles and other brain games. I’ve even heard of brushing your teeth or eating an apple with your non-dominant hand to keep your brain snappy (and by “heard of” I mean “put to the test” and both are really challenging and really messy, trust me).

But what of this physical activity business doing more than games to keep your mad brain skillz sharp?

The study, which included 700 men and women around age 70, involved the use of MRI to observe brain activity and to measure brain volume. The brain, like all organs in the body, undergoes normal changes with age that compromises its ability to function optimally. Anyway, the study found that, when compared to social interactions and brain games, physical activity was by far the most neuroprotective. In other words, as we age our brains atrophy or shrink and are prone to developing lesions that can reduce our capacity to think clearly and remember events or daily tasks. Physical activity, however, can counteract or slow these changes.

Contrary to popular belief, brain neurons (nerve cells) do not undergo a massive die-off with age. Evidence now suggests that some neurons are indeed lost, but the brain continues to grow new ones, albeit at a slower pace. What does happen is that nerve cells in the brain begin to shrink. As a result…these age-related changes alter the transmission of nerve impulses through the brain, leading to slower cognitive processing and delays in recalling stored information.

— Excerpted from Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, Memory Special Report: Your Aging Brain: What’s Normal, What’s Not, March 29, 2010.

All of that sounds an awful lot like fibromyalgia brain, huh? Especially the parts about brain atrophy and the inability to think clearly or remember things quickly.

Research studies have demonstrated similar age-related atrophy of brain tissue in people who have fibromyalgia and related chronic pain syndromes like low back pain and irritable bowel syndrome. Not such great news by itself, but if physical activity is neuroprotective for aging brains, it should also be neuroprotective for fibromyalgia brains.

What Kind of Physical Activity is Best for Your Brain?

The kind where you move. Seriously, people. Participants in the study reported everything from “moving only when necessary to walking or competing in sports several times per week” and all showed measurable benefits on MRI scans.

Don’t think that you can’t do enough activity to get benefits. The biggest gains come from doing a little more than you were doing before, especially for those who go from doing nothing to doing something.

I can’t stress enough how little physical activity it takes to reap the benefits for your brain and for your entire body, not only for your fibromyalgia but for your overall health and well-being. Check out my post about the definition of physical activity to see what types of activities you can start doing today.

With regard to aging, thinking about ways that you can be more active today (and actually doing those things) will pay off later.

With regard to fibromyalgia, being more active today will pay off, well, today.

How is your brain on exercise? Have you felt that physical activity helps keep your head clear? Best wedding gift ever? A cannon. And a bandolier to go with my dress. Thank you, Pain Sensations, for making sure no one on the planet will miss our arrival into any port. We love you, too.

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