What happens to your brain on exercise?

Exercise.  This word often invokes feelings of dread about a chore that we must do.  “Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day” is what we hear at the doctor’s office.  You know the feeling when the triage nurse goes through her round of preliminary tests and questions…  I am pretty sure they tell us this is what we must do at least 5 times a week.  I  feel like telling them 3 times a week is a bit of an over-estimation but this is usually what I tell them because it sounds better than 2 – or none!

So what is the magic about the “20 to 30 minutes” anyway?  I did some online research and found some curious information.  The take-away message seems to be: this will make you happier!  It will help reduce symptoms of depression and stress.  How many of us take prescriptions to combat the daily tolls that our jobs take on our minds?  I am one of these people.  By the end of the week my brain is fried; I am brain-dead, exhausted, miserable, and wondering why this is how life is supposed to be for those of us in the work force.  I mean really?!

Realistically, 20 minutes out of a whole day is not much.  We really could do this!  Figuring out when exactly may be a bit of a challenge but ultimately it is worth taking the time to think it over and come up with a plan.

So how does 20 minutes of exercise make us happier?  Interactions between our cardiovascular, endocrine, and neurological system work to release hormones and other chemicals which give us that “feel good” feeling afterwards.  This feeling is likely to last all day long!

When we exercise, our brain recognizes a level of physical stress occurring when your heart pressure starts to increase.  To protect us from the stress the brain triggers a release of a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor).  BDNF acts as a protective and reparative force for our memory neurons.  This is what causes the “feel-good” after exercise.  Simultaneously, the brain triggers the release of those endorphins which tend to reduce the discomfort of exercise.  BDNF and endorphins can actually have the same addictive behavior as morphine, heroin, or nicotine!  So, let’s start an addiction!  A healthy addiction that is !

Research at Penn State University found that, “Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”  The brain is much more active after a 20 minute walk than after sitting quietly.

As a matter of fact, author Gretchen Reynolds has written a whole book called The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer where she postulates we do not need to become professional athletes to achieve peak happiness and productivity levels.  Gretchen Reynolds says, “The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”

So, start small and build a daily keystone exercise habit!  Start with 5 minutes a day.  Take a walk, roll out the yoga mat, or do some vigorous house-work!  It doesn’t have to be intense!  Work your way up to 20 minutes and see how you feel.

Use an app to track your progress.  Put your exercise clothes on your alarm clock or leave your yoga mat rolled out on the floor and in full view.  Do what it takes for you to cultivate this habit.  The reward is that you will feel great!

I’m off for a walk now,

To your health!

Disclaimer:  All articles written on Microyogi are opinions and not meant to serve as any kind of instruction for how to move your body.  I am merely writing to serve as a means of trying to find my own answers.  I am not a certified trainer or medical expert.

Ease neck, shoulder, and upper back tension

Hours spent at the microscope can be a literal pain in the neck for many laboratory professionals.  Pipetting can also put strain on shoulders and upper backs.  Much of corporate America sits at computers for long stretches of time.  Many workplaces are implementing ergonomic work stations to help ease some of the pain many of us encounter on the job.  While this is definitely a positive move, there are many things that we, as self health advocates, can do for ourselves.


How do we sit at work?  Are we slouching in our chairs?  Just getting into the habit of sitting up straight is a great starting point.  As you slouch, your shoulders hang forward, and your neck and upper back try to compensate.  Muscles which are not meant to maintain posture, such as smaller neck muscles end up doing jobs which they are not meant to.  They get tired; we end up with neck and upper back pain.

Stretch and strengthen

We need to stretch out the tight muscles and we need to strengthen the weak muscles.  Stretch out the chest muscles; strengthen the upper back muscles.

Yoga is great for accomplishing both of these tasks in a way which is both gentle and easy on the body.  And with yoga’s calming effect some stress may be alleviated too.  Stress is another contributor to muscle tension.

Deep breathing will help relieve neck tension.  Sit comfortably with your hands on your belly and inhale.  Feel your belly inflate; exhale and feel it fall.  Do this for 10 breaths.  Be aware of your neck muscles as well as your posture.  Sit up straight.  You can do this at your desk or at home.

“The Clock” is a pectoral or chest muscle stretch.  Stand next to a wall with your hand up on the wall above your head in a 12 o’ clock position.  Slowly move your hand to 1, 2 and 3 o’clock.  Try to keep your ribcage facing straight forward. You should feel a stretch in front of the right shoulder.  Hold for 6 breaths and then repeat with the left arm.

Arms overhead with strap can be done with a yoga strap or a belt.  Holding the strap in both hands shoulder width apart raise your arms overhead.  Your palms should face away from each other.  If you can’t straighten your arms, just move them farther apart until you can.  Now drop your chin to your chest to release your neck muscles and gently pull your arms apart from each other.  Hold for 6 breaths and repeat twice more.

Downward dog at the wall is a variation of downward dog.  Press your hands against a wall and walk your feet back until you create a table top position.  Lift your sitting bones towards the sky as you press in to the wall with your hands.  Keep your knees slightly bent.  You should feel like your heart is melting towards the ground.  Hold for 6 breaths as you focus on opening the chest and lengthening your spine.  If done correctly this pose will feel incredible!

There you have it.  A couple of poses to help ease your neck pain through the stretching and strengthen of key muscle groups.

To your health.

P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, questions, or comments.  Send me a reply below.

Disclaimer:  All articles written on Microyogi are opinions and not meant to serve as any kind of instruction for how to move your body.  I am merely writing to serve as a means of trying to find my own answers.  I am not a certified trainer or medical expert.