‘Gentle’ exercise is good for the brain | #performance #health

We know only too well how important it is to be physically active. This may mean formal exercise or sports, but equally we can be on the move and using our bodies when undertaking day-to-day tasks.

Researchers have previously found that exercise affects the brain in positive ways, including enhancing learning and memory. How to go about exercising is yet to be defined, the reality being that it is likely to be influenced by our genetic make-up, i.e. ‘personal training programmes’. It has been thought that the benefits come from vigorous exercise, however this may not only be the case.

A recent study by Michelle McDonnell and her team has found that gentle exercise affects the brain in very good ways. Low to moderate physical activity for 30 minutes stimulated neuroplastic activity. This is the basis for how we learn.

This is also excellent news for chronic pain sufferers who are trying to become more active. It shows that we can use low intensity exercise to affect the brain positively. Many people in pain describe a loss of energy, resources, focus, concentration, memory and resilience. To improve this situation, exercise is needed yet often feared. By creating a baseline and reducing the threat of being active by developing understanding of pain, you can gradually build tolerance and confidence as well as improve brain function. This usually takes the focus away from the pain as you are able to engage in more meaningful activities.

For those seeking to improve their performance at work there are a number of strategies that can be used. Developing improved focus and attention using mindfulness training, taking refreshers and renewal breaks to sustain energy levels, cultivating skills of resilience and clear thinking to deal with situations and regular exercise to sharpen the brain and maintain physical fitness.

For details on programmes that incorporate these techniques for chronic pain, injury and developing performance, contact us on 07932 689081.

See the article below:

A single bout of aerobic exercise promotes motor cortical neuroplasticity.

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 May;114(9):1174-82. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01378.2012. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

McDonnell MN, Buckley JD, Opie GM, Ridding MC, Semmler JG.


International Centre for Allied Health Evidence, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia. [email protected]


Regular physical activity is associated with enhanced plasticity in the motor cortex, but the effect of a single session of aerobic exercise on neuroplasticity is unknown. The aim of this study was to compare corticospinal excitability and plasticity in the upper limb cortical representation following a single session of lower limb cycling at either low or moderate intensity, or a control condition. We recruited 25 healthy adults to take part in three experimental sessions. Cortical excitability was examined using transcranial magnetic stimulation to elicit motor-evoked potentials in the right first dorsal interosseus muscle. Levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor and cortisol were assessed throughout the experiments. Following baseline testing, participants cycled on a stationary bike at a workload equivalent to 57% (low intensity, 30 min) or 77% age-predicted maximal heart rate (moderate intensity, 15 min), or a seated control condition. Neuroplasticity within the primary motor cortex was then examined using a continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS) paradigm. We found that exercise did not alter cortical excitability. Following cTBS, there was a transient inhibition of first dorsal interosseus motor-evoked potentials during control and low-intensity conditions, but this was only significantly different following the low-intensity state. Moderate-intensity exercise alone increased serum cortisol levels, but brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels did not increase across any condition. In summary, low-intensity cycling promoted the neuroplastic response to cTBS within the motor cortex of healthy adults. These findings suggest that light exercise has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of motor learning or recovery following brain damage.

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