The intricate relationship between exercise and the mind has long fascinated scientists and researchers alike. Despite the scientific evidence highlighting the mental benefits of exercise, many of us find ourselves grappling with an inexplicable laziness when it comes to getting active.
Perhaps it’s an innate resistance, a natural aversion to discomfort, or simply the allure of sedentary comforts. In any case, these tendencies are worth exploring further as we delve into the profound insights offered by the book ‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Sleep’ by Dr. Jennifer Heisz.
Dr. Jennifer J. Heisz, an expert in brain health, holds the position of Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University.
She leads the renowned NeuroFit Lab, which has garnered substantial funding of over $1 million to support her research on the impact of exercise on brain health. With a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from McMaster and a postdoctoral fellowship in Brain Health and Aging at the Rotman Research Institute, Dr. Heisz is dedicated to exploring the effects of physical activity on brain function, promoting mental health and cognition in individuals across various age groups, including young adults, older adults, and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her exceptional contributions to research have earned her numerous honours and awards, such as the Early Researcher Award from the Government of Ontario, the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award, and the prestigious Canada Research Chair in brain health and ageing.
What is the book about?
‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind’ is a comprehensive guide that reveals how exercise not only benefits the body but also positively impacts the mind. The author extensively cites proven studies throughout the book to emphasise how exercise can effectively combat inflammation. As inflammation has long been recognised as a significant contributor to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and dementia, the book’s insights hold immense value. Understanding how our bodies function and why we experience certain emotions in specific situations brings a comforting sense of knowledge and awareness.
Organised like an exercise program, the chapters are thoughtfully structured, incorporating various physical activities such as walking, running, and aerobic exercises. Each chapter focuses on different aspects of the mind that are influenced by these exercises, covering topics like mood, creativity, mental age, and even potential cases of addiction. Overall, this book offers an enlightening journey into the profound connections between exercise, the body, and the mind.
Key takeaways from ‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind’
1Physical exercise even in small amounts is beneficial for mental and cognitive health
Exercise emerges as a powerful remedy for alleviating symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Dr. Heisz uncovers the link between exercise and neural inflammation reduction through specialised proteins called myokines. This revelation holds promise for the one in three individuals who do not respond to antidepressants. Notably, Dr. Heisz’s research suggests that moderate intensity exercise may be particularly effective in preventing depression.
2Don’t be too easy or hard on yourself, find the ‘just right’ intensity
Navigating the fine line between good stress (allostasis) and bad stress (allostatic load) is key to unlocking the true benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. Striking the right balance maximises these advantages while minimising the risk of injury and discomfort.
Pushing yourself too hard during exercise can push you into the realm of allostatic load, potentially weakening your body. Conversely, exercising too gently may not provide the necessary allostasis required to foster strength and growth, leading to stagnation. The sweet spot lies in exercising at the ‘just right’ intensity, where optimal growth occurs.
3Exercise holds the key to improved sleep patterns
Not only does physical activity enhance sleep quality, but strategic timing of exercise can help individuals shift their sleep schedules, enabling night owls to become early risers and vice versa. By increasing a natural sleep aid called adenosine, exercise deepens sleep when the body expends energy. Dr. Heisz’s research highlights how resistance training, particularly when more intensive and frequent, promotes better sleep.
4Exercise can help recovery from addiction
Dr. Heisz explores the intriguing connection between exercise and addiction. The euphoric ‘runner’s high’ is believed to be a result of the combined effects of endorphins and endocannabinoids, analogous to morphine and cannabis, respectively, both produced during exercise. These compounds trigger a rush of dopamine to the brain, a potent neural incentive linked to addiction. However, exercise’s ability to boost dopamine levels offers a compelling opportunity for supplementing addiction recovery and subduing cravings.
5The impact of exercise extends to preventing dementia
Dr. Heisz’s findings reveal that your level of physical activity contributes as significantly to dementia risk as your genetics. Surprisingly, even if you possess a healthy set of genes, leading a physically inactive lifestyle can nullify their protective effects against dementia. Engaging in exercises that challenge you to produce lactate, a by-product of vigorous muscle work, becomes vital. Contrary to misconceptions, lactate plays a pivotal role in brain health. During anaerobic exercise, lactate travels from the muscles to the brain, fostering the growth of new brain cells in the memory-focused hippocampus. This critical insight supports Dr. Heisz’s conclusion that higher-intensity interval training is especially effective in enhancing memory across all stages of life.
6If you’re leading a sedentary lifestyle, try getting up every 30 minutes
Sedentary behavior deprives the brain of essential nutrients, hindering optimal function. Short bursts of activity inject the prefrontal cortex with a surge of blood sugar and oxygen, heightening focus.
Table of contents
- Author’s Note
- Introduction: The Healing Power of Exercise
- 1. The Reasons It’s Hard to Exercise
- 2. Move Away from Anxiety and Pain
- 3. Mental Health Is Physical Health
- 4. Free Yourself from Addiction
- 5. Keep Your Brain Young
- 6. Move More to Sleep, Think, and Feel Better
- 7. Staying Focused, Being Creative, and Sticking to It
- Appendix: Exercises
- About the Author
- About the Publisher
Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews
Accessibility and clear structure, making complex topics easy to understand.
The author covers a wide range of physical details such as exercise, eating habits, music, and phobias, showing their impact on the mind with fascinating variety.
The book contains valuable information about how the brain works and how chemicals produced by the body can affect mental health.
Offers insights into which types of exercise yield the most benefits.
It’s particularly beneficial for newcomers to the topic, as the author adeptly explains complex concepts to beginners.
Includes suggested exercises with accompanying pictures, making it easy to incorporate them into one’s routine.
The overly chatty and personal tone didn’t resonate well with some readers.
Contains quite a bit of diet culture and some readers wouldn’t recommend this book for individuals in ED (Eating Disorder) recovery.
The book suffered from repetitive content.
Best quotes from ‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind’
“Exercise is medicine that we all need. And I do mean all of us. Not just drug-resistant non-responders, but responders too.”
“Back in 2014, one research group reviewed twenty-two studies that had examined the use of exercise as treatment for substance use disorders, including alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs (heroin and cocaine). They found that exercise increased abstinence rates and eased withdrawal symptoms including anxiety and depression, especially among illicit drug users.”
“A 30-minute bout of moderate to vigorous exercise crushes cravings sixfold and puts a pause on drug cravings for at least 50 minutes afterward.”
‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind‘ offers a compelling exploration of the profound relationship between exercise and mental well-being. Driven by a neuroscientist’s expertise, the book leverages proven studies to reveal how exercise can effectively combat neural inflammation, benefiting individuals struggling with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. The research sheds light on exercise’s preventative effects against dementia. The book’s strengths lie in concise scientific explanations that make complex concepts understandable to a wide audience. However, it has some weaknesses, such as the occasional oversimplification of scientific concepts and very chatty tone. The target audience for the book includes individuals seeking a comprehensive understanding of exercise’s impact on mental health, especially newcomers to the topic.
Where to buy
You can purchase ‘Move the Body, Heal the Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Sleep’ on various online platforms, including Amazon. It’s available in hardcover, audio and Kindle formats.
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