The Global Lead News OCT | NOV 2015 - Page 95

I noticed that my grant writing, a difficult task that I do all the time as an active research scientist, seemed enhanced. In particular, my writing sessions were more efficient because I was able to pay attention for longer periods of time and my memory for information I was reading in different scientific journal articles seemed more precise. This means that for the extra 4-7 hours a week I was spending at the gym, my energy, mood, attention, memory and even my social life all improved in clear and noticeable ways. And that was my first experience with the disruptive power of exercise.

But when I realized how much exercise seemed to effect my brain (i.e., improved mood, memory and attention), I decided to look deeper into the science underlying these observations. What I found was an exciting and growing neuroscience field showing that aerobic exercise can change the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function. For example, studies have shown that exercise can increase the levels of brain neurotransmitters that are typically decreased in depression including serotonin and noradrenalin. One of the most consistent findings from studies of exercise in people is that exercise can improve attention.

Finally a large set of findings in rats have shown that exercise can stimulate the birth of new brain cells in that brain area important for long term memory, the hippocampus. That proliferation of new brain cells in the hippocampus also results in better memory performance in exercising rats relative to sedentary rats.

I knew I wanted to learn more about the brain effects of exercise and as a life-long teacher, I knew the best way to learn a new subject was to teach a class on it.

And that’s how my undergraduate course called “Can Exercise Change Your Brain” came to be. Moreover, because this class was inspired by my experience at the gym, I wanted to bring exercise into the classroom so students could experience the effects of exercise first hand as well as learn about what exercise was doing to their brains. I quickly learned that there was no funding available to hire an exercise instructor to teach in my new class.

So I went to plan B. I decided to go to the gym and get certified to teach intenSati myself!

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