Exercise and the Brain

  • by Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA, BSc, MSc, DDS, FAGD, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA
  • Nov 27, 2017, 15:12 PM

We accept that our physical health can have ups and downs. Sometimes we’re healthy and robust, and sometimes we come down with an acute problem that requires us to stop and look after ourselves. Sometimes we need medical intervention, and sometimes we have chronic problems that last longer than a year. Mental health issues are another story. They follow the same patterns as our physical health: sometimes good, sometimes not so good, sometimes chronic and requiring medical intervention, but they are often poorly understood and poorly accepted in both  medical and non-medical communities.

While I was visiting my family physician early last year for my annual physical, he asked me how I was “really” doing. I told him about the struggles my eldest daughter was having with depression, including some recent acute episodes that required emergency medical services assistance, as well as my own issues with anxiety after the collapse of the practice that I built, and the impact it has had on me, my former team and the patients I had known and cared about for the past quarter century.

What I love about my doctor, a long-time friend, is that he likes minimal chemical intervention where possible. He recommended I pick up a copy of the book “Spark,” by Dr. John Ratey. I went out and bought a copy, and it was nearly a year before I finally read it.

Dr. Ratey is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. This book, published in 2008, utilizes case studies and empirical research demonstrating researchers’ improved understanding of how the brain works at the microscopic, biochemical level, and shares incontrovertible evidence that aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.

We seem to know a lot about the benefits of exercise for the body, yet North American’s health continues to decline, despite what we know. Our diet, nutrition, airway and breathing, and more also play huge roles too, but exercise alone can help kick-start the resolution to change our lives.

Dr. Ratey demonstrates how exercise can improve learning and memory, lower stress, relieve anxiety, reduce depression, improve attention deficit issues, help resolve addictions, reduce the impact of hormonal changes in women, and reduce the incidence and severity of senile dementia. He concludes with a chapter on the regimen he recommends to achieve these remarkable things.

What I don’t understand is why no one is talking about this book. It was published nearly 10 years ago, and was a “holy cow”-, “eureka”- type of moment for me as a reader and health- care practitioner. It is time to get this conversation going, and I hope to start that conversation here and now.

We need to focus on fitness education as opposed to sports education. We need to customize and individualize the goals and how we measure the results. Modern technology makes it easier and at less cost than ever before.

It is my opinion that this book is essential reading for all health care practitioners, and I highly recommend it for the general public as well. It’s not dentistry, but as physicians of the oral region, it has an impact on us all.

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