Research is emerging to support what is good for your body is good for your brain! The American Academy of Neurology in 2018 reviewed the best practices for neurogenerative diseases and aging-related decline in cognitive functioning. While none of the medications they reviewed were found effective, one thing was highly recommended to protect against cognitive decline: exercise!1
And there’s even more encouraging news worldwide: in 2014, a 2 yearlong study of healthy older adults with cognitive decline risk factors2 found that movement, healthy eating, and cognitive engagement had a protective effect on decreasing risk. And currently, the U.S. POINTER study (ongoing in 6 sites in the US), is investigating brain-healthy lifestyle programs and improvements in brain health and prevention of cognitive impairment.3
How can Essentrics help build a better brain?
There is considerable research on Tai Chi, a form of movement similar to Essentrics. It is gentle with full body dynamic movement that combines strength and stretching. Like Essentrics, no external weights are used and there is a focus on weight transfer and balance, posture, breathing and circular types of movements.
In a 2014 study, Dr. Wayne and his fellow researchers were able to summarize and critically evaluate research on the effects of Tai Chi on cognitive health in healthy adults.4 Their conclusion: there are amazing positive effects of movement and improved cognitive power!
Two areas of the brain that especially benefit from the protective factors of sustained movement:
1. Prefrontal cortex (area behind the forehead): this area is responsible for “executive function”, an umbrella term for processes such as planning, focus and attention, decision making, problem solving, task shifting, connection with others, and flexibility in our perspectives. It is also emerging as a key component of healthy balance and posture.
2. The Hippocampi: we have two in the temporal region and they are responsible for learning and memory – i.e., forming and recovering information.
These two areas are the most vulnerable to reduced brain functioning, but just like a muscle, we can improve the function of the brain! And it is never too late to start.
This research also summarized characteristics of movement programs that enhanced cognitive function the most. Notice how Essentrics has all of these key points – and more!
– Increased brain-derived neurotrophic factors that increase the number (neurogenesis) and functioning (neuroplasticity) of new brain cells (neurons). There is an increase in number and activity between neurons. Your brain begins to form and strengthen new pathways for connections among brain cells.
– Increased circulation increases cerebral blood flow, improves blood pressure, management of blood sugar (glucose), insulin and blood fats. Increased circulation improves immune function through lymph circulation, decreases inflammation, pain, and reduces the risk of stroke.
– Learning and memorization of new skills and movement patterns has shown improvements in cognitive function. Movement that involves sustained and shifting of attention can improve memory, focus, cognitive flexibility, and overall executive function.
– The use of imagery improves memory and learning activity. Through mastery, agility, coordination and novelty, we engage our brain in new and challenging ways!
– Improved mood and energy, including feeling confident and stronger and flexible in both our bodies and minds! Neurotransmitters (chemical messengers between the neurons and neuron and muscles) are released when moving and include dopamine (pleasure and motivation); serotonin (mood); noradrenaline (concentration); acetylcholine(learning); endorphins (well-being) and glutamate (memory) all contribute to this enhanced feeling of well-being.
– Movement reduces the circulation of cortisol, a hormone that the body releases when stressed. Under prolonged periods of stress, cortisol causes inflammation and affects memory and learning. Movement – especially in enjoyable activities with social support – has been associated with reduced cortisol and improved cognitive performance.
How can Essentrics help build a better brain?
1. Use body awareness: Follow the pace and cues of the instructor to help feel the movement. This new-found awareness will help you reap the benefits of clean alignment, target the correct muscles, and hydrate connective tissue.
2. Practice: Take a variety of classes on Essentrics TV to challenge yourself! Notice how the music evokes emotions that mimic the movements. Keep your breath comfortable, slow and deep to stay centered.
3. Continue learning: Our tutorials, workshops, and blogs are there to enhance your learning and keep you motivated for a lifetime of better health with Essentrics!
Contributing writer Nanette Tummers
2. Ngandu T, Lehtisalo J, Solomon A, Levälahti E, Ahtiluoto S, Antikainen R, Bäckman L, Hänninen T, Jula A, Laatikainen T, Lindström J, Mangialasche F, Paajanen T, Pajala S, Peltonen M, Rauramaa R, Stigsdotter-Neely A, Strandberg T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto M. A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2015 Jun 6; 385(9984):2255-63.
4. Wayne, P. M., Walsh, J., Taylor-Piliae, R.E., Wells, R.E., Papp, K.V., Donovan N.J.,Yeh G.Y. Effect of Tai Chi on Cognitive Performance in Older Adults: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Geriatr Soc 62: 25– 39, 2014.