I read a recent article by Gretchen Reynolds of the NY Times (Jan, 22nd) entitled ‘How Inactivity Changes the Brain” is all about research that is pointing toward the brain adapting its own function in a negative manner, based on inactivity, is important information. Researchers found that “being sedentary changes the shape of certain neurons (nerve cells) in ways that significantly affect not just the brain, but the heart was well.” The undeniable research on neuroplasticity, or the brains ability to change its structure and function, has tended to focus on positive change. But in reality, if we are too inactive, we know that the brain, which is more ‘a highly complex event’ rather than a thing, is adapting all the time based on our own input and activity; or lack thereof.
Exercise tends to be particularly adept at remodeling the brain, studies show. But of course, we have for a long time intuitively known this truth, that in fact a balanced diet and regular exercise have a big impact on our health and the adaptability of our nervous system to keep up with the constant change and stress that is life on Earth. And so if we are too inactive and have maintained less than balanced diet, eventually we will see our structure and function deteriorate to some degree.
I began my therapy career as a body therapist and saw first hand the results of poor diet and lack of exercise. I recognized the importance of exercise to be able to reduce the stress that is a fact of life in our stressful world. I mean there are no panaceas, but if there were one, it would probably be a combination of diet and exercise.
What about diet?
Since we are an organism, we have to follow the principles of what supports organic life. Foods that are over-processed lose their nutritional and vital substance; this is scientifically clear. So to eat as close to Nature is obvious. Vegetables, some fruits, high quality protein (there are opposing views on what kind of protein which I will not weigh in on), fiber, high quality fats in balance and so on are key. There is enough information out there to help you decide what works for you at any given period of life. The occasional rich food is important to our psyche of course but we need to keep these as treats or we throw our metabolism into down
There are as many theories about exercise as there about about diet. Suffice it to say that walking or swimming regularly, engaging the cardio-vascular system or the like is necessary. Inactivity as well does not allow a detoxification process that is sufficient to clear the organism of toxins that build up. I prefer the Oriental basis of exercise which understands that our organism is not a machine that has to puff, sweat, and move all the parts, and not to say that there are not some excellent exercises available. The ancient Oriental cultures that developed medicine approaches like acupuncture (they license it today because it is verified good science) understand completely how energy flows in our organism and how to increase and stabilize that vital energy (chi: Chinese, ki: Japanese). In my understanding, it is this additional element of stimulating and accumulating vital energy along with diet and exercise adds up to good health. Yoga would be included here as it is done relaxed and breath is the key to opening joints and increasing vitality.
So long as you have some kind of effective exercise that includes abdominal-diaphragmetic breathing, coupled with a reasonably balanced diet, you are likely to be encouraging your brain/Central Nervous System to improve itself, again, along the lines of neuroplasticity.