Moving makes us happier and helps to create a well-being state to all of us. Actually, we are designed to move and for this reason, when moving we express a whole series of adaptation genes, which are capable of giving our best physical and mental state.
Our ancestors moved, ran and jumped while searching for food or running away from danger. So, it is logical to think that our muscles and our brain are connected to act together in a coordinated way. They do it through a type of connection called myokine, which boosts and activates the participation of more neurons (in a process called neurogenesis) and its optimal connection during physical activity.
For many years, it was thought that once we matured our number of neurons started to decline. Today we know that our brain is similar to a muscle: it can exercise, it grows, and it gets modified every day. This fascinating concept is called neuroplasticity, our brain is constantly changing, and it changes according to stimuli and experiences we live.
Let’s not forget that the brain and how it’s functioning has been a great mystery for a long time. But the progress of neurosciences in recent years has started to explain the great adaptability it has and its different response, depending on our lifestyle.
What parts of the brain are activated when exercising?
Nowadays, using imaging techniques like an MRI, we are capable of knowing what parts of the brain are being activated when at rest or after 20 minutes of exercise. Imaging techniques also help to know how the expression of some genes can change. They are the so-called epigenetic changes that are linked, among other aspects, to exercise, diet, sleep or meditation.
For a great part of the population, now there’s an interest for an active and healthy lifestyle as it leads us to enjoy and get to know our body better. People are seeking to live more consciously, and, for this, they use different exercise strategies for physical and mental well-being, as well as looking into nutrition, meditation, etc.
In fact, the tendency is that people want to feel and take an active part of their current well-being and for the next years of their life. This is what we call to practice salutogenesis.
The term salutogenesis was created by the physician and sociologist Aaron Antonovsky at the end of the 20th century. It comes from the Latin salus (“health”) and from the Greek genesis (“origin”, “creation of”). It can help us define the positive effects that certain life habits create on our body or even positive thoughts that reinforce brain circuits related to mental well-being and motivation. Movement and exercise are salutogenic. But also, their regular practice creates positivism and more desire to practice new strategies of salutogenesis.
The concept of our health, in general, has also changed in recent years. The most notable one used is from 1948 and it defines it as a complete state of physical, psychic, and social well-being (and not just the absence of disease). Now it has been redefined to a much more active concept related to our adaptive capacity under different circumstances that take place throughout life.
These circumstances can vary due to challenges, demands or stress situations that test our physical and mental capacity. The result can be a healthy ability to recover the balance and to adapt for many years. Or, on the contrary, the non-adaptation and the early appearance of diseases.
What is resilience?
Through well-designed strategies we can generate stronger and better-adapted individuals, who recover fast from different kinds of demands, delaying the appearance of a disease. This is a way to define resilience.
Resilience or the ability to recover fast from adversity was in the past associated with psychological aspects. Nowadays, we also speak of resilience after exerting physical effort, after the metabolic stress of a big meal, or after an emotional problem or adversity.
Active health or salutogenesis requires resilient tools for our body and our brain, knowing nowadays that there is a constant interaction of information shared that connect both to improve performance.
Science allows us to measure these connections between different organs: it has been demonstrated that anabolic hormones like lgf-1, myokines like BDNF (neurotrophic factor derived from the brain) or neurotransmitters like serotonin increase with exercise. Besides, they modulate cortisol or inflammatory parameters such as TNF alpha cytokines or interleukin IL-6.
Aerobic exercise improves brain vascularization and oxygenation and delays cognitive impairment, it increases our cognitive reserve and the number of hippocampal neurons. In addition, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can act on the hypothalamus regulating appetite and, in turn, strength work can act on the frontal cortex and our reasoning capacity.
The Barça Innovation Hub team