I’m going through a lot right now. This year, my New Years’ Resolution is to exercise more, hoping to take my mind off everything. My schedule only allows me to go to the gym twice per week. Will this help me feel better, in terms of anxiety or mood? –F.A., New York
Answer: You’re among an estimated 38 percent of Americans that make a New Year’s resolution to either lose weight or exercise more. That’s around 125 million people! While you tighten those abs, you increase happy brain chemicals, thus enhancing feelings of a good mood and reducing anxiety. Exercising during the day improves sleep. So yes, this is the perfect time for you to commit, and I commend you for using the gym as your solution as opposed to other solutions, like the drinkable, addictive sort.
To get these benefits, the CDC recommends that you get least two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week. So your question is a good one, if you only make it to the gym twice a week, are you still getting the neurological “brain” benefits the other five days of the week?
Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil compared brain cell (neuron) growth in rats that were either active or sedentary. Not surprisingly, the active rats show two to three times more neuron growth, plus they had better memory skills than the rats who got to rest.
We all know our jeans fit better when we exercise, but how long will exercise boost brain function and mood? Dr. Bucci, an associate professor of psychology and brain science at Dartmouth, says this varies from person to person.
Don’t stop working out after you’ve achieved a size four! Researchers examined what happens to memory when exercise is suddenly halted, and the results were dramatic. After just one week, all the health and memory benefits declined in the rats who had been exercising. After 10 weeks of inactivity, the previously active rats’ brains were almost indistinguishable from those of the sedentary rats!
What does this mean for us? It means get off your butt and shake your booty. I can tell you firsthand, when I hunkered down to write my first book in 2006, I ignored my exercise regimen for 6 months solid. I felt it too. I kept losing my keys, documents on the computer… I would forget what I went into the room for and stuff like that. Today, I don’t hunker down, I allot time to write, as well as time to take a walk, hike, hula hoop, yoga, dance or do pilates. Something! I feel terrific and my mind is very sharp. If you’re unable to exercise because of physical limitations, do one brain game per day like sudoku, scrabble or a crossword. It increases neuroplasticity allowing your brain to grow cells, reorganize and rewire itself. Simply defined neuroplasticity means: Use it or lose it.