what happens to your body when you exercise?

exercise changes you.

Neuroscientist Judy Cameron, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Tommy Boone, Ph.D., a board certified exercise physiologist, and Edward Laskowski, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center take us through what happens in the body when we exercise.

Increased blood flow during exercise benefits the brain: brain cells function at a higher level, increasing alertness, focus and awakeness. This may be neuroprotective. Neurotransmitters are released: endorphins (“runners high”), dopamine and glutamate (smooth, co-ordinated movements), GABA (slow), seratonin (mood). Exercise facilitates brain cell growth in hypocampus (memory, learning),

Muscles use glucose and ATP for the energy required to contract and create movement. When there isn’t enough oxygen to create ATP, lactic acid is formed. Tiny tears form from exercise that encourages muscle growth and strength as they heal.

Lungs need up to 15x more oxygen when you exercise. Your breathing rate will increase until the muscles surrounding the lungs just can’t move any faster (named “maximum VO2 capacity”).

The diaphragm (a muscle!) can fatigue (side stitch!). Practice deep breathing (pranayama!) and stretching (yoga!) to  alleviate the discomfort.

Heart rate increases to quickly circulate more oxygen. This becomes more efficient with exercise experience, so you can work out harder and longer (lowers resting heart rate). Exercise increases new blood vessel growth (decreases blood pressure).

Movement and absorption in stomach and intestines is paused during exercise because oxygen is diverted to the muscles.

After exercise, the kidneys allow more protein into the urine and trigger water reabsorption… keeping you as hydrated as possible. Cortisol is released to help energy stores turn into fuel for the body. Adrenaline increases heart rate to deliver blood to muscles.

The blood vessels in the skin dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The heat then dissipates through the skin into the air. Sweat glands produce perspiration (water+s alt+electrolytes and/or odor-causing) onto the skin’s surface. When this sweat evaporates into the air, your body temp drops.

Capillaries in the face dilate to release heat = red face!

Joints take 5-6 six times more than your bodyweight during exercise. This can cause wear and tear on the cushioning tissue (cartilage), soft tissue and lubricating fluid.

… 10+ more reasons to “do your body good” and get moving! much love.

other resources:

Sarah Klein, Sept 4/13 Huffinton Post Healthy Living


“this is your brain on the couch”: inactivity changes the brain

We know that the brain retains plasticity, or the capacity to be reshaped, throughout our lifetimes. And that exercise is particularly adept at remodeling the brain, prompting the creation of new brain cells and other positive changes. I posted previously about the dangers of sedentary time (HERE).

Now it seems that inactivity can also remodel the brain. A study (Mischel et al. J Comp Neurol 2014) conducted in rats demonstrates that sedentary time changes the shape of certain neurons that significantly affect brain AND heart function. 


After 3-month of resting, neurons in the brains of sedentary rats developed branches that made them likely to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS directs blood vessels to widen or contract as needed to control the flow of blood. Overactivity of the SNS contributes to increasing blood pressure and possibly the development of heart disease.

All the more reason to get off your couch or chair and get moving! much love.

Other References:

Mischel et al. Physical (in)activity-dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla. J Comp Neurol. 2014 Feb 15;522(3):499-513. doi: 10.1002/cne.23464.

Reynolds, Gretchen. How Inactivity changes the Brain. Well blogs, NY Times. January 22, 2014.

How exercise improves brain health

Last week I mentioned some specific exercises targeted to PD symptoms (see HERE and HERE)… today I want to share WHY exercise is so important for brain health.

New Research out of the Dana-Faber Cancer institute and Harvard Medical School (Spiegelman & Greenberg, Cell Metabolism 2013) shows that endurance exercise, such as distance running or cycling, releases a protein (FNDC5) that improves brain health while promoting the growth of nerves associated with cognition.

Alzheimers and Exercise

In laboratory rats, PGC-1α (which is also found in humans) led to improvements in protein FNDC5 and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factors (BDNF). PGC-1α is thought to coordinate the gene response to exercise,  blood pressure and development of obesity.

Exercise stimulates BDNF expression in the hippocampus, the part of the human brain associated with memory and learning. In this study, specific improvements in awareness and memory recall was demonstrated. BDNFs are also responsible for creating new brain connections (neurons, synapses)

Memory is Enhanced by Exercise

Rich Exercise Regimens Promote Cognitive Health

So, keep moving! much love.

Other reference:


images from bodbot.com

sit less and move your as… ana

Sedentary lifestyles are killing us.
Sedentary‘ is defined as the act of sitting… sitting on the couch, sitting in the car, sitting at your desk, sitting to eat. ‘Sedentary’ does not mean ‘inactive’. ‘Inactive‘ is defined by an individual not meeting current recommendations for physical activity
Ayurveda, the sister-science to yoga, focuses on balanced, stable and nourishing routines. Ayurveda considers ‘sendentary time’ as “styana” (inefficiency, idleness, procrastination, dullness) and “alasya” (laziness, sloth). These contribute to distractions and obstacles on the path to connecting to one’s true nature and the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life.
my snuggly couch potato... and, yes, he made himself THIS comfortable!

my snuggly couch potato getting his dose of sedentary time … and, yes, he made himself THIS comfortable!

The average Canadian adult spends 50 to 70 per cent of their daily lives sitting, and roughly another 30 per cent sleeping. Research published last fall by Dr. Wilmot (2012) makes it clear that sedentary behaviour is killing us by:

147% increased risk of heart attack or stroke; 112% increase in the risk of developing diabetes; 90% greater risk of dying from a cardiac event; and 49% greater risk of premature mortality.

Activity matters. It’s about moving during your day (“physical activity“) and planned bouts of effortful activity (“exercise“). CSEP recommends (ages 18-64) at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It is also beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week … however, according to Statistics Canada, only 15% adults meet these minimum requirements.

Sedentary lifestyle in older age is especially risky. However, there is GOOD news. Changes to glucose and insulin cause by sitting can be offset by standing up and walking two minutes for every 20 minutes of sitting. Research has also demonstrated that brief behavioural intervention for older adults 65 years and older resulted in a three percent reduction in sitting time over a two-week period (Gardiner, J Am Prev Med, 2011).
… so what are you waiting for? get your as…ana off that chair and on your mat! much love.

Other resources:

building brain muscles -or- practice makes perfect

When you practice learning something new, you’re building new neural pathways in your brain. The more intense the practice, the stronger and more functional those neural pathways, and the better you can play the piano or the more likely you are to make a three-pointer with your non-dominant hand.

Fortunately, old dogs CAN learn new tricks, and as you get older your brain can continue to build new pathways and get stronger, even if it’s at a slower pace than when you were younger. To make sure your brain stays toned and ready to fire you need EXERCISE! You can protect prefrontal and temporal gray matter volume and forge new neural pathways with daily physical activity!

Happily, this brain-building technique also can help folks who develop a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s, in which old pathways are lost and new ones are hard to develop. At Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, intense exercise improves symptoms for more than 30 percent of people with Parkinson’s.

Learning-based memory exercises can also help keep our memory sharp… umm have you tried LUMOSITY? I love their games, it’s a great break during the day!

… and remember that change is possible at any time. Not only is our brain plastic (able to be “remapped” toward greater health, calm, memory, and reduction of pain) but also our thoughts and feelings can be reshaped on a daily basis. We can begin to experience positive transformation within days—a transformation that can be sustained over a lifetime.

so, try a new hobby, activity or brain game today! What are you waiting for? much love.

(adapted from NGNEWS)

break a sweat for PD

Athlete at the BC Senior Games

As we get older, our brain shrinks… yep it’s inevitable… all those thoughts, memories and white matter just waste away. White matter is especially important, like the wiring of our brain that is associated with cognitive function and memory.
Especially in PD, preserving brain volume could potentially improve motor and cognitive symptoms and anxiety.
A few recent studies show how exercise can help maintain our brain volume and quality of life
THIS ONE states people who exercised the most also had the least amount of shrinkage and damage to the brain’s white matter
THIS ONE shows treadmill exercise are the most feasible for people with PD, and showed the greatest improvement in gait speed and quality of life.
THIS ONE demonstrates that combining strength exercises with treadmill training may have an even greater impact on walking speed and fitness. (also see it on Parkinson Disease Foundation‘s blog HERE!)

Finally, here is a great chart from the Parkinson society Canada to keep track of your daily exercise patternsHERE
a few more reasons to get out there! much love.

… one of my favourite places to get sweaty? Why, Moksha Yoga, of course!

Parkinson Wellness Recovery – Exercise 4 Brain Change!

Last week, I went to a talk by Becky Farley, PhD, MS, PT, sponsored by Parkinson Society BC. The topic was “EXERCISE AS MEDICINE” and she discussed some of the work she does at her Parkinson Wellness Recovery gym in Tuscon, Arizona.

About Dr. Becky Farley

Becky became involved in Parkinson’s disease during her post-doctoral work when she investigated the muscle activation deficits underlying bradykinesia in people with PD. She developed the LSVT® BIG exercise approach and standardized training to targets the PD symptoms of slow/small movements bradykinesia/hypokinesia.

About PWR!

The aim of Becky’s program is to use exercise as a physiological tool to optimize brain function (i.e. neuroplasticity) and health. Her program is based on: early intervention, continuous access and research-based exercise programs. PWR! also trains clinicians and fitness professional with techniques to focus on PD-specific exercise.

Her exercise tips:

  1. “start from a position of power!”. Your body needs to be ready, your brain needs to be focused and the task needs to feel important (or fun!) for change to occur. Make your exercise engaging!
  2. Use equipment (i.e. bungees, ropes, balance boards, harnesses) to get the experience of the full movement safely (especially in people with PD who have difficulty balancing etc.), then start to take some of those supports away as you progress and apply that experience to everyday movements!
  3. For people with PD, especially those with dyskinesias – seek exercises that gain core stability
  4. Sensory feedback – i.e. pacing, metronome, music – can help push you to exercise faster, harder and with more smooth movements
  5. Prime” your body by starting your exercise program with progressive aerobic training, then follow up with skill acquisition-type exercises.
  6. Focus not only on increasing muscle mass, but want to increase useable muscle and focus on functional movements in your exercises… not just “curls for the girls” but include things like:
  • lateral rotations, cross-body, sequential movements, extensions, quick position changes, side-to-side weight shifting)

How does exercise help brain function in Parkinson’s?

Becky also presented some of the latest research on the benefits of exercise on brain function.

Exercise can help increase brain volume, improving working memory and attention. Also, it increases blood vessels and leads to more neurotrophic (growth) factors (like “gatorade” for the brain!) and a more supportive environment for neurons. Exercise also increases the redundancy in brain synapses. Redundancy is good! If you have some synapses that aren’t working, you will have back ups to replace them!

Specifically in PD, research tells us that exercise increases survival rate, increases physical functional ability, and improves cognition! It can help “repair” the dopamine system in early/moderate stages of PD by increasing dopamine D2 receptors and helping your brain make better use of remaining dopamine.

some references of interest:

“How might physical activity benefit patients with Parkinson disease?” Speelman, Nature Reviews, 2011

“Effectiveness of intensive inpatient rehabilitation treatment on disease progression in parkinsonian patients” Giuseppe et al., Neurorehabil Neural Repair, 2012

“Does vigorous exercise have a neuroprotective effect in Parkinson disease?” Ahlskog Je, Neurology, 2011

It was a great talk, and I feel lucky to have been there and met with her. I’m also excited to hear her thoughts on how yoga can fit within this model…

Please check out her PWR website and see if there are any trained-clinician in your area! much love.