Movement & the Development of Your Brain

New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds writes, "It's widely accepted among scientists that regular exercise transforms the brain, improving the ability to remember and think." Reynolds goes further pointing to a promising body of research supporting the idea that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. The National Academy of Sciences published a new study showing how testosterone increases in the brain after training could be fueling neurogenesis and brain plasticity.

It turns out your brain likely produces a significant amount of the hormone dihydrotestosterone or DHT (as you might have guessed by the name, a derivative of testosterone). Researchers found that the hippocampus - critical for memory formation and spacial navigation - in particular was bathed in this hormone after training and that new neuron growth likely resulted from DHT's uptake in the brain. Reynolds summarizes this stating, "In essence, exercise prompts the production of more DHT. And more DHT helps to create more new brain cells."

Turning our attention to brain-derived neuro-tropic factor or BDNF we find yet another body of research supporting brain development and training. BDNF is a protein that promotes tissue growth and health throughout your body, including that brain of yours taking in these words. Training increases your levels of BDNF. It is vital in the learning, memory and higher thinking regions of the brain (not to mention it is well established as an important part of the regulation of body weight, in particular fat oxidation in muscle tissue, and energy homeostasis). Of all the chemicals that help stimulate and control neurogenesis, BDNF is perhaps one of the most active. Harvard's clinical professor of psychiatry Dr. John Ratey calls it the "Miracle-Gro" of the brain.

So, if you happen to be interested in enriching your neurons with the right "nutrients" to fire more quickly, grow faster and develop stronger connections then get into your training, NOW!

Furthermore, I can't think of a more rich neurological climate to pick up meditative or contemplative exercises with the power to yield multifaceted transformations throughout your life. Get training and while you're at it you might as well make strength training your new spiritual practice as Strength To Awaken illustrates.

~Rob McNamara

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Can Strength Training improve your emotional intelligence?

Strength training may be strengthening your body-mind's capacity for interoception just as much as, perhaps more than, it is strengthening your muscles, connective tissue, and your neurological capacity to innervate muscle fibers through your motor units.

So while strength training is often focused upon conventional measures of strength, power and endurance I propose that strength training may also be effective at strengthening your ability to identify, assess and control emotions.

Interoception, or the perception of the inside of the body, is a central foundation in strength training. The process of feeling down into your body (or part of your body) creates a more "vertically" integrated nervous system. The prefrontal cortex
- the seat of your conscious awareness and decision making center of the brain - connects through the insula down into the body to receive all sorts of information such as heart and breathing rates, tension and fatigue in the muscles, pressure upon the skeletal system, pH levels in the digestive system amongst many others.

Strength training vertically integrates the nervous system which is very similar  to the neurological wiring needed for self-awareness and social attunement. So while you may be focusing on lifting more weight, the interoceptive process required to do so may be fine tuning your neurological capacity for a larger emotional intelligence.

It's likely that through the process of staying calm, open and relaxed in the face of high levels of pain and intensity during your training that some important neurological changes may be under way.

The assessment of when to be reactive and to be receptive that happens in the brainstem might be undergoing some sort of change making you a more receptive human being even under immense stress. As your posterior insula registers your bodily states during your training a more robust connection to your anterior insula (the part that is invariably activated when you are aware of your bodily states) may be developed as you consciously focus on the direct and immediate sensations of training.

This in turn may introduce stronger connections between the anterior insula and your prefrontal cortex. Spindle cells are responsible for precisely this and research supports that as spindle cell density increases, so does the experience of self-awareness.

Strength training, it's usually focused upon waist lines and muscle tissue, but perhaps as we outgrow these limiting orientations we will discover how strength training brings greater plasticity to the nervous system and shapes a more integrative human being.

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