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Thinking about Exercise


“We humans are microwave ovens,” was the thought that leaped into my head after reading Tara Parker-Pope’s latest column in the Times, “Exercise Fuels the Brain,” about how new research suggests that cognitive function can be improved by working out.

Let me explain. Do you know how a microwave oven works? Do you in the least understand the science behind what happens when you push the button for 30 seconds and reheat a bowl of rice or warm your forgotten cup of tea? Probably not, right?

And do you have the least idea about how your brain creates thoughts, and feelings, and memories? Or how that thing you’re carrying on the top of your shoulders actually works? How the cells in your head acquired language, how they solve puzzles, respond to your spouse’s requests? I doubt it.

Does anybody really know? I'm not sure, but Parker-Pope’s article shows that researchers are slowing starting to better understand how our brains function. According to her, exercise makes the brain work harder, and the following happens:

This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled. What’s more, the finely honed energy balance that occurs in the brain appears to have implications not only for how well the brain functions during exercise, but also for how well our thinking and memory work the rest of the time.

The result, as one of the researchers puts it, is that “’it is tempting to suggest that increased storage and utility of brain glycogen in the cortex and hippocampus might be involved in the development” of a better, sharper brain.’” I’m not really sure what that means, but I know when I go for a run and then have a good breakfast, I can think better. Or at least I think I can think better.  What about you? How do you incorporate exercise into your day?

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