As you may be starting to see and hear through our blogs, we are very passionate about neuroscience and positive psychology. Both of these help us to understand our brains and these learnings can in turn assist us to flourish in life.

It’s amazing how our thinking (another blog), simple breath techniques and aerobic exercise changes our biochemistry, changing us to be smarter, and helping the communication pathways in the brain. Exercise influences how neurochemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are produced.  Humans really are fascinating in what we can do and be.

So, what are our exercise habits? Each of us has a story to tell on why we got to be where we are now on our exercise journeys, with compassion, we can ask ourselves what may have gotten in the way of us being our best selves.  Reflect on this, let go of self-limiting thoughts or narratives so we can create a new wellness journey. In this blog, I want to inspire you to get that intrinsic motivation to lace up your shoes and start moving your body. I am seeing more individuals and families out exercising while physically distancing; walking, running, walking their dogs and riding bikes. Its as if people have naturally gone back to exercise to reduce stress, our brains have evolved to encourage us to move. When we understand the brain, health benefits and how the brain can change with movement we will be more able to develop genuine motivation for exercise.

When we exercise our brain, our brain functions at its best, in the world of positive psychology and neuroscience we say to our clients “exercise is more about building and strengthening the brain to reverse cognitive decline, improve moods, reduce stress and then the side effect is training muscles and looking leaner”. Exercise promotes neuroplasticity, while reducing chronic inflammation, and these are just two of a catalogue of benefits.

When we see the brain as a muscle, and flex certain parts more regularly we can strengthen those parts. The brain is plastic or malleable with over 100 billion neurons and new brain cells are created constantly.  Some connect and some disappear (neurons that fire together wire together) – we want the exercise ones to wire. We say in neuroscience and psychology what we don’t use we lose….. So, imagine the 100 billion brain cells, each of these connecting to 10,s of thousands of other cells.  Movement activates more neurons than any other activity we do.

Exercise unleashes a cascade of neuro chemicals and growth factors that can reverse stress, chronic disease, also changing the physical structure of the brain. Exercise sets the stage, so that when you sit down to learn you are already helping strengthen learning and memory connections, creating a new superhighway in the brain. Imagine when you are just learning to drive a car or ride a bike? When you first learn its kind of clumsy, then when you have done it so many times, it becomes automatic, the brain has created a the neural super highway. Imagine when you first learn something new, the pathway in the brain is more like a gravel track to be strengthened and with repeated practice behaviours become automatic, like a well driven road.

Even peak performers know that to excel cognitively, socially, emotionally and behaviourally they need to exercise, building their mental and physical toughness. We can keep the fire of exercise burning, as we have a dedicated reward system that comes from the hunter gatherer times, we seek food, we gather, we get dopamine, and this is pleasurable. Intrinsic motivation is a behaviour or motivation that arises from an action or reward that comes from within. We can create more intrinsic motivation, or personal reward for the inner self to be successful, by developing more autonomy in what we choose, and how we give purpose to our chosen movement and then our mastery and success. Extrinsic motivation is seeking external rewards, they are essentially more de-motivating and don’t always reinforce positive behaviours. Choose intrinsic motivation to boost dopamine which in turn boosts motivation.

How do we foster more motivation? We can get positive reinforcement from our coaches, and or by setting a variety of tasks that are challenging. Use private recognition and self-compassion to assess individual success not comparative to others.

“Sometimes the biggest problem is in your head. You’ve got to believe you can play a shot instead of wondering where your next bad shot is coming from. “Jack Nicklaus” golfer.

Visualisation and imagination is where you imagine fulfilling the wish. See yourself running if that’s the new goal. Elite athletes say an Olympic runner will visualise themselves crossing the line first. You can rehearse how you want to feel, imagine self-executing the skill, then bring to mind vivid and emotional details.  How might you be feeling and thinking while executing, and after completing the task, then break it down into goals. Then write it down, plan it, be realistic using smart goals method.

Get your ‘Mindset’, as this is the single attitude that separates those who succeed and those who don’t. Example, if I said “I’m not a runner” how would I feel and behave with this thought? As opposed to “I’m learning to run”? How might I feel and then behave.

Exercise tips for thriving:

  • Remember the brain is a muscle and what we practice we become more proficient at!
  • Be self-compassionate about the exercise journey as this will help you to stay exercising “I’m improving my fitness and wellness”.
  • There are 168 hours in a week and it only requires 3-4 sessions of 30 minutes of getting heart rate up to change the brain. That’s only about 1.5 hours out of 168.
  • Celebrate small success – Dopamine increases, then we are more likely to keep going.
  • Exercise is the most effective way to change your brain and it can be free.

Let’s lace up our shoes and get moving towards a flourishing life.