Aerobic exercise and brain repair

Aerobic exercise is crucial for good health. It strengthens the immune system, and, most importantly for children with special needs, it helps the brain grow and repair.

When you look at your child, you may describe them as “busy”, “hyperactive”, “highly strung” and “doesn’t sit still”. And so you might say to yourself, “Well, at least they get exercise all day, which is good for their brain!”

But are they really getting aerobic exercise?

Here is an example of the benefits of exercise.

Max was a 12-year-old who had been doing Sensory Enrichment Therapy for almost a year. He had a passion for lights and would spend the entire day running around the house on a mission to switch on the lights, and then he would go back to check that they were still on. When Max was not switching on the lights, he would pace in front of the TV watching the same cartoon or sit at the computer clicking endlessly.

We decided to put Max on a daily aerobic program, involving two walks outside each day and two sessions of activity in the backyard. Max’s mom was a little doubtful that she would be able to get Max to follow her on a walk. We made some suggestions and, gradually, both of them were walking twice daily for longer and longer distances.

The result of the added exercise for Max was a sudden burst of speech, better sleep, better understanding and increased capacity for play.

Usually, movement that happens inside the house is not exercise.

Aerobic exercise is raises the heart rate and breathing, and involves effort.

Again, aerobic exercise is crucial for health, to strengthen the immune system and most importantly, to help the brain grow and repair itself.

Take your child for walks! Go to the park and you will enjoy the additional health benefits too!

Choose the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is low, and walk for twenty to thirty minutes. When your child gets tired, sit on the grass or on a bench for a rest, and then keep walking. If it is too hot to walk or walking doesn’t suit you, go to the swimming pool, play jump rope, go on a bike ride, try basketball or rollerblading.

These are some general ideas. The point is to make sure your loved one gets to do something fun, that elevates the heart rate for at least 20 minutes. The goal is not to lose weight, but, most importantly, to help the brain to repair itself.

Here is some further reading material:

– Carl W. Cotman, Nicole C. Berchtold and Lori-Ann Christie. “Exercise Builds Brain Health: Key Roles of Growth Factor Cascades and Inflammation.” Trends in Neurosciences 30, no. 9 (2007): 464-72.

– Seo TB, Kim BK, Ko IG, Kim DH, Shin MS, Kim CJ, Yoon JH, Kim H. “Effect of Treadmill Exercise on Purkinje Cell Loss and Astrocytic Reaction in the Cerebellum After Traumatic Brain Injury.” Neuroscience Letter Epub ahead of print (2010).

– Kotrschal A, Taborsky B. “Environmental Change Enhances Cognitive Abilities in Fish.” Public Library of Science Biology 8, no. 4 (2010).

– Martončíková M, Lievajová K, Orendáčová J, Bla(sh)ko J, Račeková E. “Odor Enrichment Influences Neurogenesis in the Rostral Migratory Stream of Young Rats.” Acta histochemica Epub ahead of print (2010).

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