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Exercise is Crucial to Mental Health

Posted Jul 20 2009 12:16am
By Steve White, guest blogger

Everybody knows the physical benefits of exercise, but neuroscience is now proving that movement and play are crucial to sustaining mental health, according to Harvard Medical School’s John Ratey, who spoke last week at the world-renowned Chautauqua Institution.

Humans are still hard-wired as hunter gatherers, designed to move more than 10 miles a day on foot to find food, which is a far cry from the more than nine hours on average that many of us spend sitting in front of one type of screen or another each day.

Unfortunately, those same hunter-gatherer genes also encompass a strong, primitive survival instinct, prompting us to take in as many calories as we can whenever sustenance comes along. This leads to the deadly combination of a sedentary lifestyle and over-fueling the body, which in turn has a detrimental effect on the mind.

Ratey told a packed house at the historic Chautauqua amphitheater that researchers are even beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as Diabetes Type 3, an allusion to the emerging scientific picture that pushing more fuel (food) through the body that it can handle can, over time, cause the brain to malfunction.

Movement including exercise and play can go a long way to offsetting both the physical and mental side effects of this distressing development. Physical exertion is also proving a potent weapon against depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, meaning that it’s crucial to incorporate some form of fitness regime into our daily lives not only for our physical well being but our mental health as well.

Ratey offered a simple formula to help stay mentally fit: low caloric intake, continued learning and exercise. Exercise, he added, helps spur cell growth in the brain and increase production of much-needed neurotransmitters. To learn more, download Ratey’s July 16 lecture at

This is the first in a series of short reports from last week’s focus on “State of Mind” at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y. Speakers included noted neuroscientists, health professionals and experts in the mind-body-spirit connection. Look for more updates in the coming days.
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