Did you know we have dogs in our brain? Obviously we don’t but here’s a funny story to illustrate how those “dogs” affect our exercise habits.
In a deep-seated region of the brain, lies the Hippocampus. It’s central to three important functions: emotions, motivation and storing new memories. Its neighbour, the Amygdala, sounds the alarm if it feels threatened and will overwrite the Hippocampus’ welcoming and open nature. These two regions of the brain are like neighbouring dogs that have different personalities. One is like a goofy puppy, who is playful and open while the other is like a guard dog, with a more serious demeanor whose job is to be on alert. If the guard dog feels all the safety checks are in place the two can enjoy a romp, have doggy fun and create doggy memories. But playtime will end if something needs attention. The guard dog will attend to the threat and the puppy will have to settle for a snooze on the porch, until safety in the neighbourhood returns and play can begin again.
What this means is that we need to feel safe and secure before adopting new tasks, so learning and memories can be established. The root of this message is not so much about physical safety, but getting out of our comfort zone and habituated patterns that may be holding us back from our physical and mental potential. So, how does this all come together? Because I’m not a scientist and I understand movement as a form of expression, I'm going out on a limb to say that movement is a healthy avenue towards neuroplasticity. And in order for us to keep motivated, we have to enjoy it, before we can expect to harness the muscle memory that goes along with it.
Enjoying exercise that incorporates large movements, using arms and legs together, creating three-dimensional patterns and moving in all directions will fire up the neurons, the balance reflexes and will challenge us. Being stuck with lack of motivation, however, is like being stuck in guard-dog mode. A way to come back to the playful puppy state can be as simple as standing up, gently swinging your arms and taking a few big breaths to get you going. Before you know it, the legs and feet want to play and within a couple of minutes, not only has your energy changed, but so has the mindset towards movement.
Movements like this begin every one of Aha’s classes, to prepare the mind and body for the larger ones that require coordination and increased brain activity. Not only does this benefit you physically, but chemically as well, the added bonus being a flood of endorphins and other positive neurochemicals that are like a vitamin blast into the noggin, ingraining new pathways of learning.
These new pathways are like the worn-down grass in the goofy puppy’s yard. Exercise then, especially with large, coordinated movements becomes our version of playtime, with repetition, energy and fun!