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Podcast Script Below
The Milestone Mind Institute is HERE!
By Dave Nelson, Founder at Milestone Mind
August 9, 2017
In this episode, we take a look at the science behind why we feel clarity and focus after exercise, and what is producing this within us after working out. Yes, the mind produces the major three components of mood and focus: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, however, these can be dramatically affected by the bi-products our muscles produce during and shortly after high-intensity exercise (these bi-products only come by way of significant resistance use of our muscles and are not generated by the brain). This hormonal response naturally balances the three top neuro-receptors described above, but there is a lot more at play, including the growth of new brain cells, that this hormonal reaction to exercise provides.
First, let's talk about what happens within the muscle.
When your primary motor function center of the brain sends an impulse from the brain, down the spine to the branch of the body that it seeks to excite, this wakes up the motor neuron axon signaling process within the nervous system (the central and peripheral nervous systems) the muscle fibers themselves that in turn activates the myofibrils within the muscle itself. When the fibers slide against each other, this causes a chemical reaction at the cell level where the energy center of each fiber, the mitochondria, mixes up a concoction appropriate for the activity. The more intense the exercise, the more significant the chemical response. For instance, if you just walk, the mitochondrial activity is using fats as the muscles energy source. There is also minimal motor neuron recruitment and not a significant hormonal response to the activity within the body - almost think of it as business as usual. But, with business as usual, and with the natural degradation of the body over time, business, as usual, tends to decline in its output if one does not seek to keep their production bar ahead of the degradation, wherever they are in their lives. On the other hand, if the request of the muscle is more intense in nature, the mitochondrial will mix up a different cocktail which tends to include things like creatine, glucose, lactate (in place of oxygen), and phosphagen. Seeing this similar to gas in a car as the fuel, there is a chemical reaction which produces a bi-product - for cars, its carbon dioxide, for muscles, it's hormonal. In this hormonal response, the endocrine system will provide significant increases in hormone like human growth factor, insulin growth factor, testosterone, cortisol (which is counteracted with norepinephrine during rest), and a whole series of other responses within the body for it to adapt to the activity.
This is where things get interesting. None of this chemical response is produced within the brain - it is entirely produced at the cell level first within the muscle, and the peripheral nervous system (external stimulus) to recruit more neurons for the muscle. All the brain did was tell the muscle to move, but from there, the energy centers within the muscles are where these chemical reactions took place.
More on this in a second.
It was long believed that after adolescence the brain no longer created new tissue, the new tissue creation process called neurogenesis. A huge component within new brain tissue creation is through a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and its important role in developing the hippocampus region of the brain, where new things and memories are learned and created. It has also been found that BDNF plays a crucial role in the balancing of the most important focus and mood neurotransmitters and that if BDNF is lowered, there is a direct correlation to unbalanced neurotransmitter production, i.e., dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, being the major three pertaining to focus and mood. This has also been shown to have a significant correlation to ADD, ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, et all.
BDNF's kryptonite is stress, more specifically cortisol. If the body is in an elevated cortisol state, be it physical or emotional, for a long period of time without the production and enhancement of BDNF, it will actually dramatically erode BDNF production, if not almost entirely wipe it away. BDNF is also cortisols kryptonite.
So when someone says exercise reduces stress, what it's actually doing is increasing BDNF in the brain.
But how does this process work? It starts at the muscles.
After the muscle contracts, specifically with high-intensity exercise, and it bi-product produces significant increases in different hormones, one particular hormone plays a vital role in the production of BDNF in the brain, and it's called Insulin Growth-Factor, or IGF-1.
The brain has a very tight vein barrier, called the blood brain barrier, in order to keep bacteria away from brain tissues. However, certain micronutrients and hormones can get make it past this barrier, and for a good reason. IGF-1 is one of these hormones, and it acts as a fuel source, so to speak, for the creation of BDNF. Research has found that increases IGF-1 directly correlates to increases in BDNF, and that you can't have the latter without the former.
So, bringing this full circle. At a high-level, what has a significant role in producing BDNF? IGF-1. But, what has a significant role in producing IGF-1? High-intensity exercise. And where do the muscle fibers gain their energy to expand and contract? From within the mitochondria which produce the alchemy of non-brain derived ingredients for the muscle to move.
Quite literally, your muscles and their fuel's bi-products, not your brain, improve mental cognition, clarity, mood, and even now better understood, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity (learning new things, and improving one's ability to learn new things).
I think it's safe to say we think the brain does everything, and that even mindset and mindfulness improve mental health, but the reality is that brain health starts first with using your body, and then from there, the body sends growth factors to the brain, which aids in the creation of the brain protein BDNF.
So if one wants to create clarity in their lives, learn new things, become more mindful, develop and forge an unstoppable mindset, develop coherent plans of attack and visualizations, become more present and increase stamina, it quite literally starts at the body level first, and the chemicals that level produces for brain growth and health.
No book, poem, program, meditation, mantra, or goal list can take its place. Those are the effects of the life you want to live. The cause is you, but it starts at using your body, so it can literally feed your mind, becoming one in the process.
It's not the mind-body connection. It's the body-mind connection. It seems like the body serves the mind, not the reverse (the mind serves the body).
Interesting to think about. What do you think?