So you are exercising regularly! What happens if you stop?
Their resting cerebral blood flow drops significantly. This happens in most regions of the brain, one of them is the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory. It is a region that deteriorates in association with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This should get your attention!
Now, let’s turn this around. We know that exercise contributes to better cognitive skills. We also know that certain types of meditation improve cerebral blood flow as well reduce the likelihood of mental decline.
Good cerebral blood flow is important because the brain needs the oxygen delivered by blood flow to function normally. To envision the consequence of reducing the available blood flow, imagine a heavy smoker trying to run. Now imagine your brain trying to deal with life’s daily challenges.
What Do If You Have to Stop Exercising?
Clearly, we need to exercise to stay healthy. But what if you have to stop exercising because of an injury or sickness like a bad cold or the flu?
The first thing to do is to determine if there are alternative ways to do an exercise routine.
Let’s deal with the body first. Consider what happens when you sit for long periods of time and don’t contract your leg muscles. Blood flow declines significantly and quite quickly. This decline can contribute to hardening and narrowing of the arteries. There is also evidence that it increases the likelihood of weight gain and diabetes.
Get fidgeting. A recent study contrasted the blood flow to leg muscles during sitting. Subjects in the study sat facing a computer screen for 3 hours. One leg was kept still while the other was involved in fidgeting movement (toe tapping) for one minute out of four. Blood flow to in both legs was measured before and after the sitting period. As expected, blood flow to the still leg was significantly reduced. Blood flow to the fidgeting leg was significantly improved compared to the still leg. Activity, even mild activity keeps the blood flowing.
So, fidget away even if you are nursing a sore ankle or recouping in bed.
But what about keeping the blood flowing to the brain?
There is good evidence that certain forms of meditation like Kirtan Kriya, improve cerebral blood flow and takes only 12 minutes. Once you look at the benefits you’ll realize this is something you should be doing regularly. But, it is definitely something to you should be doing if you can’t exercise.
It has also been shown that overall blood oxygen consumption increases during arithmetic computations. So you could get out a math book and start solving problems. Not likely, right!
Alternatively, you could engage in a task that is a little more fun but still taxes the brain. That could be playing solitaire on a computer.
Normally the goal is to play to win, that is, get all the cards on the top row. But if you play to win as fast as you can you put significant demand on short-term memory and attention, putting the brain to work. You have to remember which cards are turned up in the seven columns and the ones in the top row of four. With this in mind, you have to make a quick decision of whether to play (touch) the card turned over from the deck or turn another one over.
Try it. This is a mentally taxing task and here is the beauty; it is taxing regardless of how fast you can play it to completion. At the beginning, you may find that you can’t keep all the cards face up in the columns in memory or your attention wanders. If you keep trying it will still be taxing. As your attention and memory improve, and they will with practice, your speed will improve. At any level, you will be putting demands on memory and attention and increasing the demands for oxygen delivered by cerebral blood flow.
This is a fun way to keep your brain active without exercise.
Now, what about beverages?
Cut back on the coffee. Caffeine is the most active ingredient in coffee. In moderate amounts, it can be a stimulate that enhances attention, mood, and concentration. Of course, at larger doses, it can lead to tension, anxiety and make it hard to concentrate. While it is a neuro-stimulant at moderate levels, it actually reduces cerebral blood flow by interfering with neuro-receptors involved in regulating blood flow.
So if you are forced to stop exercising, it is probably a good idea to back off on the coffee or at least switch to decaf.
On the other hand, consumption of flavonols like those found in cocoa can increase cerebral blood flow.
Trade-in the coffee for hot chocolate – especially if it is made with dark chocolate that is high in cocoa.