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Evolutionary history and why physical activity is important for brain health (scientificamerican.com)
284 points by prostoalex on Dec 23, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 123 comments



>Less clear has been why physical activity affects the brain in the first place.

I think the studies are looking at this backwards. Physical activity should probably be looked at as the natural state of humans and ask why lack of physical activity affects the brain.

Then it probably makes a lot more sense, the brain is comprised of cells, just like muscles, that are either anabolic or catabolic. A lack of physical exercise is going to put all cells, including brain cells, in a catabolic state the same as muscle atrophy will waste away muscles due to lack of physical activity.

Cells are cells, they are where energy is made, they are binary only existing in anabolic or catabolic states and never simultaneously existing in both states. Lack of exercise put the cells in catabolic states and long term catabolic states lead to metabolic/energy production problems in the cells. So naturally if you consider lack of exercise as the natural state of humans, sure it will appear physical activity improve brain function.


> I think the studies are looking at this backwards. Physical activity should probably be looked at as the natural state of humans and ask why lack of physical activity affects the brain.

I wonder if there's a selfless gene in humans that reduces the reproductive fitness/longevity of humans that aren't pulling their weight for the group. I could imagine that a gene that shortens the life of a member in a group could increase the survivability of the gene in the same way that we've documented selfless genes that spur primates to alert predators to save close relations at their own personal expense.

Lack of activity might just be telling the body that we're useless and we need to exit in order to help others. It's a silly idea, but just a shower thought I've been mulling over.


>It's a silly idea, but just a shower thought I've been mulling over.

I can't answer your questions, but I can add some more food for thought to think about...consider the impact of ones microbiome in turning genes like this on/off. So you may have the "selfless gene" as you call it, but by default it is turned off, so you don't warn your own of the predator, now same exact hypthetical, but it just so happens you ate something that introduced new viruses/bacteria into your microbiome, which happened to change your gene expression and turn on the selfless gene causing "you" to warn your kind of the threat. Did you really warn them, or since the gene was only turned on by your particular microbiome at the time, are you just a host being controlled by trillions of bacteria and viruses?


Not silly at all. You could even relate the suicide of lower status males to this kind of mechanic. Or the grandmother hypothesis about why women have a menopause.


But both genders are prone to suicide, male especially, but that's more societal than genetic. If there is a comparison between equal situations between male and female, you got a point though. But most of the time, I'd say the median male suicide victim is in worse off situation than the median female victim, hollistically


Those seem to contradict. Lower status males would be striving for a chance reproduce, or having reproduced would need to work to elevate their offspring's status.


The idea is if you've lost the race, let your genes that are carried by the winners take your share of resources. That way your genes win anyway. The individual organism is a lottery ticket.


Somewhat related: "How Immune Systems Can Influence Social Behavior" [1]

So yeah, maybe there's actually some subsystem that controls social behavior, to get rid of someone from the group, or out them to the group by having them unintentionally sabotage themselves, etc.

Maybe people who can't self-terminate are turned into some threat to society that would get them targeted, but their minds present it as some kind of game.

[1] https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-immune-systems-can-influen...


>> I wonder if there's a selfless gene in humans that reduces the reproductive fitness/longevity of humans that aren't pulling their weight for the group.

I think that’s where sexual selection kicks in: slackers are not liked and have less sexual partners than those who have something to show off. Reducing longevity is not necessary since people loose fertility long before death


Geriatrics compete with their offspring for resources. This is why most species don't have geriatrics. Humans have some special social structures that make geriatrics useful to breeding offspring.


Why do you consider anabolism/catabolism a binary classification? All living cells, and especially terminally differentiated ones like neurons will have a mixture of anabolic and catabolic metabolic processes taking place constantly, and there's not a straightforward reason to think that physical exercise is flipping some binary master switch that is "good" (by some arbitrary definition) for all cells.


>and there's not a straightforward reason to think that physical exercise is flipping some binary master switch that is "good" (by some arbitrary definition) for all cells.

Its not about a "master switch" turning on/off good/bad. The systems must work together to promote healthy metabolism of the cells/energy production. Catabolism and anabolism have separate metabolic pathways controlled by a distinct set of hormones.

Anabolism and catabolism must be regulated to avoid the two processes occurring simultaneously. Each process has its own set of hormones that switch these processes on and off. Anabolic hormones include growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen. Catabolic hormones include adrenaline, cortisol and glucagon.

More generally going back to the idea of muscle...you can't lift weights and gain muscle (i.e. grow) without also gaining fat. Growth can't be isolated to muscle cells, the entire body must be anabolic to grow, which means growth of fat cells too. Many people do not understand this basic point and will swear they put on muscle and lost body fat, it doesn't work that way growth is an all or nothing metabolic process. What can be done is you can add more muscle than fat, but you will be adding both. Or in the alternative you can't lose fat and not loss muscle, if you lose fat you are catabolic and you will loss muscle. Similarly it may be possible to loss more fat than muscle, but you will be losing both. Unless you have evidence to the contrary, in which case you would be sure to be an overnight billionaire, without any exogenous drugs/hormones, it is impossible to simultaneously grow muscle/lose fat.


I like your reference to catabolic/anabolic processes. Alas, you then made some incorrect claims.

>you can't lift weights and gain muscle (i.e. grow) without also gaining fat

Of course you can. I'd be happy to share my Google sheet of daily weight, losing about 0.06lb/day, and my BodPod measurements showing going from 28% to 20% body fat while gaining 2.5lbs of muscle mass. Sarcopenia would have taken another 0.5lbs of muscle in that one year period.

Drew Baye has several articles on losing fat while gaining muscle[0]. In the first few pages of Body by Science[1], Doug McGuff defines health as (1) the absence of disease and (2) a balance between anabolic and catabolic processes. Except McGuff makes it clear that almost the entire population in the developed world lives in a catabolic energy state, eating way more than we need, never flushing the stored glucose out of our muscles, the tank is always full[2]. But while that is happening, sarcopenia [catabolic] is removing muscle mass as we age.

[0] http://baye.com/building-muscle-losing-fat/

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Body-Science-Research-Strength-Traini...

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PdJFbjWHEU


>Of course you can. I'd be happy to share my Google sheet of daily weight, losing about 0.06lb/day, and my BodPod measurements showing going from 28% to 20% body fat while gaining 2.5lbs of muscle mass.

Sure your muscle/fat percentages changes over time. But you didn't simultaneously grow muscle and lose fat, that is not possible.

>Drew Baye has several articles on losing fat while gaining muscle

Again its done over time. There is never a point you are "losing fat while gaining muscle" simultaneously, you gain both or lose both...you can certainly gain more of one than the other, or lose more of one than the other.

Just as an example:

1. You lift putting yourself into a catabolic state, you will lose both fat and muscle in this state (your body if burning more fat than muscle...but its is breaking down both, it is not burning fat and growing muscle);

2. You refuel after your lifting with protein like Whey and some glucose to spike your insulin to force the protein into your muscles, you are now anabolic (your muscle cells and fat cells are both growing and storing this new fuel you consumed, and the protein is rebuilding the muscle, as a result your muscle growth slowly outpaces the fat cell storage and growth)

3. rise and repeat over time and yes you will lose fat and gain muscle (like you did), but the growth/losses never happened simultaneously. Your body was always either catabolic or anabolic...never both.

It is over time you achieve net loss of fat and gain in muscle, but physiologically it is impossible for those processes to occur at the same time.


I agree that (1) is plausible and probably true. (2) might be true in your training regiment, and also may be nearly true in most circumstances, i.e. a good approximation.

Your theory of absolute anabolic vs. catabolic body state is absolutely bonkers. Biology does not work that way. Comprehend-able things are the simplified ones and every rule has exceptions.


>Your theory of absolute anabolic vs. catabolic body state is absolutely bonkers. Biology does not work that way.

That is exactly how physiology works (I think you may be mixing up chemical reactions with metabolic reactions). Its why when people talk about losing weight there is always a certain number of people who refer to the laws of thermodynamics (calories in/calories out), and generally that is true (calorie surplus = growth and calories deficient = break down).

Of course there are exceptions such as the body has hormones which cause certain exceptions like HGH which can trigger growth (anabolism) in caloric deficits or cortisol can cause breakdown (catabolism) in caloric surpluses.

Can you identify any metabolic pathway that is simultaneously both anabolic/catabolic?


This explanation/assertion is in sore need of citations.


https://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/metabol...

>Countless chemical reactions take place in cells and are responsible for all the actions of organisms. Together, these reactions make up an organism's metabolism.

>When a chemical reaction takes place energy is either taken in or released.

>Two types of metabolic reactions take place in the cell: 'building up' (anabolism) and 'breaking down' (catabolism). Anabolic reactions use up energy. Catabolic reactions give out energy. They are exergonic.

At the lowest level there are chemical reactions, is it not fair to say that chemical reactions are binary? Either releasing or taking in energy?

Within the cell the net of the chemical reactions is the metabolism which are either anabolic or catabolic.

There is no doubt there are many processes where one reaction triggers the other in an ongoing but the chemical reactions or metabolic reactions (net chemical reactions) are either anabolic or catabolic.


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10838463

I'll take my billion dollars in twenties please.

Anabolism and catabolism are constant and simultaneous processes, even on a cellular level.


Where does it say anything about people growing muscle when catabolic or losing fat when anabolic?

Just because the processes don't happen simltaniously, doesn't mean you can't gain more muscle than fat (or gain more fat than muscle) or lose more muscle than fate (or lose more fat then muscle), I never said the two were done at the same rate, just the body will gain simultaneously or lose simultaneously...but the body can't both gain and lose simultaneously.

Link a study showing simultaneous anabolism of muscle and catabolism of fat, or vice-versa...I'll wait.


You've moved the goalposts IMO, from the idea of being able to simultaneously gain muscle and lose fat with any particular diet and exercise regimen, to being able to simultaneously gain muscle and lose fat at any particular point in time. The former being what everyone means when they say they lost fat and gained muscle, the latter being a mostly useless concept.

But that study does implicitly contradict even the latter. The subjects were fed hypocalorically and had a net negative change in weight, yet gained lean body mass, implying at least some of the lean mass gain was fueled by metabolizing stored fatty tissue.


>You've moved the goalposts IMO...

I think when using the word "simultaneously" I fairly implied I am talking about metabolism (growth/breakdown) with respect to a point in time not over time.

>The former being what everyone means when they say they lost fat and gained muscle...

Again interpreting me fairly... I don't think anyone argues fat/muscle can not be gained or lost at varying rates resulting in net gains and net losses respectively over time.

>the latter being a mostly useless concept.

No more than understanding chemical reactions result in release or taking in energy. Sure for most people broad sweeping changes to diet and exercise will result in positive net changes to weight and MBI...but to athletes trying to gain muscle while not losing cardio, body builders cutting weight for a show, MMA/boxers making weight for a fight...these useless concepts come into play. Further, its not just world class athletes, to even the average joe going to the gym, these concepts are important to aid in maximizing gains, minimizing recovery times and improving overall performance when working out.


DNA works like a dimmer switch, not as an on-off switch though.


> A lack of physical exercise is going to put all cells, including brain cells, in a catabolic state the same as muscle atrophy will waste away muscles due to lack of physical activity.

Why is this? Using your brain cells won't lead to muscle atrophy.

From research we know physical activity is healthy for the brain, but there's no reason this should be the case from first principles. You can make the same argument in the other direction.

"The brain and body have existed in state with limited energy. So to maintain homeostasis when the muscles are used it puts the brain into a catabolic state to feed the new stronger muscles."

And if catabolism between muscles and the brain is linked then surely steroids will make people every smart by switching the entire body into anabolism from catabolism.

> Cells are cells, they are where energy is made, they are binary only existing in anabolic or catabolic states and never simultaneously existing in both states

This is 100% not true. All cells are simultaneously building stuff and tearing stuff down. Some hormones like insulin say "build more stuff, tear less down" and others like cortisol say "tear stuff down and stop building".

But the body can simultaneously build some stuff and tear other stuff down. Consider the transitions from different types of muscle fiber. From beefy body builder muscles to lean marathon running muscles. That will be tearing down a lot of proteins but building up a lot of mitochondria.


>Why is this? Using your brain cells won't lead to muscle atrophy.

Ever hear of marathon runners hitting the wall or bonking? That is the runner's body shutting down to preserve the remaining fuel to keep the braining running. That is the function of the brain is given priority over other organs and systems in the body when the brain/body are not fat adapted and glucose stores are running low.

>and if catabolism between muscles and the brain is linked then surely steroids will make people every smart by switching the entire body into anabolism from catabolism.

Certain muscle enhancing supplements due have recorded benefits to cognitive function, for example creatine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29704637). That said "steroid" is a broad brush stroke without a specific meaning as far as actual chemicals/hormones go. Moreover, as we know "steroids" in the general sense typically work by enlarging cells in the body, which yes may have helpful and desired effects with respect to muscle growth, but negative effects in other areas (enlarged heart) so unnatural growth does not equal unbridled benefit...rather anabolism (growth) is a normal and natural process that also includes catabolism (breakdown).


We're an "integrated" system. The body / brain contruct is something we invented. It's what human do. But we are not a body with a brain, or vice versa. We are body+brain. Period.


> So naturally if you consider lack of exercise as the natural state of humans, sure it will appear physical activity improve brain function.

I think not wanting to do more work or exert more energy than needed is the natural state of all of nature. Nothing does anything more than what requires the least amount of energy. However since humans are at least somewhat self aware they can 'determine' regular exercise is ultimately less annoying or less energy than being obese, depressed, and with likely more medical problems.


Animals developed brains so that they could move around without endangering themselves.

I remember a bit of research that came out of Seymour Papert's work. They took kids who were so severely disabled that they were immobile, and gave them a (physical) Logo Turtle to command, and to move around an obstacle course. The underdeveloped bits of their brain that governed locomotion started growing.


If I understood the article properly, then:

PLAY - Playing a physical game like tag, catch, soccer, volley ball, hide and seek... provides both physical exercise and cognitive / social stimulation because of group play's dynamic nature.

This next bit might not be useful. In college, the distance from my apartment to school was 15 - 20 minutes. And I took to the habit of listening to audio books on my ride (traffic was low so it was relatively safe).

I noticed that if I listened to a track while riding, I would remember exactly where I was the next time I listened to the track.

(The track reminded me of the location, rather than the location reminded me of the track.)


> I noticed that if I listened to a track while riding, I would remember exactly where I was the next time I listened to the track.

I experienced the same thing recently by listening to a book on my drive to/from work! I often listened to sections of the book a second time to catch things I missed, or to help ideas sink in, and found that I could often clearly picture the stretch of road on which I heard a passage.


This is just a modern twist of the memory palace technique known since ancient times.


>modern twist Just weird twist which triggers nostalgia


I do a stair climber, 2000 steps 5 days a week. I think this has a pretty good mix of cognitive and aerobic, I switch it up to skip steps, and stuff like that. I've not really noticed a huge change in energy, but resting heart rate etc have dropped considerably in the last year. I recommend a combo of this with a podcast to stave off the boredom. Mental clarity wise, I feel like your brain and body need the elevated heart rate etc, and this link seems to back it up.


Kettlebells have gotten a very bro-ey reputation but there are some great exercises that are a good mix of cardio and mental focus. Regular swings can get boring but learning to do snatches was punishing, yet fun, while forcing me to pay attention to my technique. Would definitely recommend it.


I started doing kettlebelle swings. I got upto doing about 70 swings and follow it up with 40 sumo squats then 50 lifts. Takes me 12 min. The workout is incredible and does not take long and i can do it at home. Trying to improve my form without paying a coach. I watch you tube videos from that russian guy pavel.


I always had trouble with videos. Some of the nicer gyms near me do kettlebell classes, so that might be worth it as a more cost effective way to get a professional opinion.

If you learn how to do a good get-up, it's one of the best full body workouts. 10-15 of those, 80-100 swings, and you're basically doing simple and sinister.

My favorite part of it is I don't have to go for a run and I still get a great cardio workout!


Stair climbers are great, but most people get better long term results by cross training a mix of different activities. Doing the same exercise daily tends to cause unbalanced muscle development and a higher risk of overuse injuries.


If you're like me an dread the monotony of working out give climbing a try! Every climb is different which keeps the workout fresh and exciting and it works out every core muscle group.


Yes, I second this. Particularly bouldering if you're more interested in strength/smaller but more physically and cognitively demanding problems. I worked out through college and then dropped the gym for a while, bouldering indoors is much more stimulating than weightlifting, and it's a great casual activity with friends too.


Climbing reduces cortisol (stress hormone) by producing testosterone. I also think fear makes you forget about everything but the problem and grounds you in what matters in life (usually not work).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20963437


I wonder what it is about climbing specifically that causes this or if it you could get the same effect from say soccer.


I can't say for sure, but having played other sports and also spent a lot of time climbing I don't think that I've experienced the same flavor of focus on the basketball court or in a flow-state while mountain biking.

I feel like there is a different and very high-quality kind of focus that comes from having to perform correctly or die.


Ever ridden a motorcycle? That certainly triggers a flow state when you're on a good curvy road, and the stakes are similarly real.


High stakes/low reward (reward being the benefits of exercise).


You do free climbing? Or simulated life and death?


I free climb. I don't "free solo", but I do "rope solo" where I am leading up with nobody but myself to manage the rope.

Most of the time the climbing I do is not really "perform or die", but I've been climbing a lot of easier stuff where there's no real way to protect anything... so I end up "running it out" and a failure would be deadly. So, like technical climbing moves with a 30M potential fall if I slip, but a fair degree of confidence that I won't slip.

That is a much different head space than, say the flow state I feel riding a mountain bike.


Nice. I've got a story about free climbing. The only time I did free climbing was as a teenager. I climbed up a small 30ft vertical cliff edge, no ropes. You might survive that height onto grass but below was sharp rocks and crashing waves.

There were enough footholds and handholds most of the way but I was stretching to get them and at one point my left foot slipped and I was left hanging on the pressure of my right foot and right arm pressed diagonally against weak holds, left side of my body dangling. There wasn't enough grip on my hand to hang by my right arm and I wouldn't have been able to balance on my right foot so I needed both to stay perfectly put, the right hand side of my body like an extended piston jammed between two points, grip slipping. I let go with my right hand then pushed off the right foothold as much as I could on the loose foot grip, got a little air while swinging my left hand up to get the next hold. Grabbing the hold I quickly pulled up my feet get access to higher footholds, body scrunched up to use them they were so close to the new handholds. Then with my feet in position I pushed my body up to get access to two new handholds and was back in a stable position.

I made it to the top but in that moment when my foot slipped I felt my heart drop so suddenly I never felt more focused in my life on the actions I was going to take next.

Dumb move to start it I guess but I was a bored teenager and wanted to challenge myself. I'd climbed rocks and stuff on the coast but never actually scaled a cliff before that point. Never did it again, never got propper training to learn good technique. Shame really because I had an affinity with it.


That's not a bad idea at all. I second that idea.

To expand on the idea, I find that the actual "workout" part of climbing is not super effective... I mean, walking/ hiking is a workout too but by itself it's not going to bring about many physiological changes without a lot of additional targeted work. For context, I don't climb "hard"... I lead trad around 5.9+, sport around 11a/b, and was grunting up some WI4 this weekend as a newbie ice climber in Ouray-- I don't boulder outside of a gym if I can avoid it.

I think most people can climb 5.10 outside without changing a lot of fitness... the skills and techniques are so much more important than strength, assuming a basic level of fitness.

What I have found is that I'm a lot more likely to do actual working out when I have a project I'm trying to get strong enough to do.

Additionally, climbing keeps me doing approaches with a pack, and there is fitness that comes with that practice. Or I need to get up hella early, so it often prevents me from drinking. Or I have a reason to fast and keep my weight as low as possible without feeling like I'm jut being neurotic and picky about what I eat.

That is all to say, I've gotten a lot of stoke for working out from climbing, but the climbing itself hasn't been specifically great workout wise.

So maybe this is just a quibble, and not a disagreement; I certainly like to recommend that people get out and climb and it sure has gotten me around the issue of not wanting to exercise, even if I don't find it to be a great workout in itself.

But that quibble does change the character of the recommendation, I think: in general, I think that any hobby which benefits from high levels of fitness is a good thing that makes working out easier. Mountain biking, back country skiing, mountaineering, canyoneering... all of those are great and make getting into the gym feel like it has a much higher pay-off.


Another niche sport recommendation: unicycling! Good for core, a unique skill, insanely fun. Learning is a test of perseverance. If you're physically talented, advanced skills will keep you engaged. If you're merely able-bodied, you can still learn to ride. A surprising number of people take it up in their 50s and 60s.


Sometimes after a climb I’m exhausted not just physically but also from all the mental effort related to path planning. Ive noticed a similar "exhaustion" (perhaps in a diminished form) after skiing and snowboarding on tricky (for me) terrain.


This is a great idea, but climb what? You need to live close to a mountain range for this to be practical.


It's infested with techies too.


The tendency to compartmentalize mind and body never made sense to me. The brain is adapted to navigating the physical world, so it should be unsurprising that physical exercise is a prerequisite to proper functioning. Why else would the "memory palace" be a thing? If our memory/perception is inherently spatial, then it relies on a privileged observer capable of interacting with its environment. The rest of the nervous system is basically just feeding you training data when you exercise.


The article or study is on to the beginning of something but it seems too light on causal links to be substantial. The effects of BDNF and other brain drugs have an entertaining defcon talk in the biohacking village. Cognitive enhancing drugs stuff looks ripe for exploration, though the side effects are concerning.


TBH I really hate physical activity, but I have to do it to keep healthy :(


You just need to find something that fits you definition of fun, I'd try different activities :)


You should try crossfit.

It is basically like Fight Club if the first two rules were the opposite.


Crossfit is great if you don't plan on needing your joints for a long life. As Bill DeSimone, author of Congruent Exercise[0], explained in a podcast, "Everyone gets a set of free passes. You decide if you want to use up all your free passes." So don't do needlessly stupid things with your body that wear out your joints any faster than necessary. Your 80 year old self will appreciate not needing a walker. F=ma, it's the law. If you can stimulate the adaptive response in your muscles with no acceleration, why would you ever do anything faster than necessary?

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Congruent-Exercise-Weight-Training-Ea..., "Congruent Exercise: How To Make Weight Training Easier On Your Joints"

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8ZTIvJySiY


More generally, it's worth asking older athletes about their health issues, to really appreciate what it means to have constant pain and physical limitations due to wrong use of the body. I learned what kind of an ordeal is to have, say, knee surgery. I came to appreciate the value of mobility and strength excercises, and am sceptical at the general state of health of elderly people in the west.


Don't let the Crossfit brand turn you off of the whole thing. If you ignore the weird culty online culture, it's just a bunch of people doing a hard workout. You'll make lots of friends, get healthier and you'll start to enjoy the workouts a lot faster than you think.


It isn't just the Crossfit brand that turns me off; it's the Crossfit mentality. When these people can't get to their "box", they come to a regular gym and tie up multiple pieces of equipment at a time doing circuits.


Crossfit appears to be about chasing fatigue, which is why I don't understand the appeal. I do moderate cardio and strength training.


crossfit is dangerous enough that it probably shouldn't be casually recommended without appropriate oversight and working with legitimate experts about how to do it safely.


Chapter 3 text 8 of the Gita on Karma Yoga

Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.


Then you should do some mental activity to find a physical activity that you like.


This is a harder problem than you seem to imply. There are very few physical activities I truly enjoy and these tend to require a significant investment of time and money (like skiing) and are not sustainable on any schedule that makes them useful as regular exercise. There are activities that I enjoy occasionally (hiking, running), but I feel like if I started doing them on schedule (I tried), the way I go to the gym, they would become a lot less enjoyable, because it is now a chore rather than entertainment. So I would rather go to the gym and hate it than grow to hate the things I actually like.


I pretty much hate everything that is easily accessible...swimming is OK but TBH I prefer reading books or coding side projects. I purchased boxing classes and will try it out with a friend.

I think some people just despise physical activities, like there are a lot of people who just refuse to think.


Yep, that's me. Hated physical activities since my childhood. I was naturally bad at it, so I was dead weight in any kind of competitive play which further increased my hate for any kind of sport. Still can't force myself to go outdoors and prefer to stay home for days, but that's really bad for health and for cognitive functions, so will have to find some way.


Be careful with boxing - taking hits to the head is very bad for brain health.


He's obviously taking fitness [boxing] classes and will not actually be sparring anyone.


Here is a list of physical activities to stimulate your memory or imagination. There is more to exercise than the gym.

Swimming, Soccer, Rock Climbing, Hiking, Kayaking, Free running, Martial Arts, Fencing, Yoga, Surfing, Dancing (Samba, Ballroom, Contemporary...), Long walks, Cycling.

My favourites are cycling because I feel so free and I love the sensation of speed and climbing because I have a natural talent for it and I love the feeling of getting to the top.


Search for "bodyweight exercise" and you'll find many types of exercise that require little or no equipment, can be done almost anywhere, and provide similar benefits to other physical activities. One I would recommend is Animal Flow, which is just quirky and challenging enough to stay interesting.


> There is more to exercise than the gym.

There is more to "I hate physical activity" than the gym, too. Some of us have seriously been looking for the proverbial "something you enjoy" for decades and haven't found it.


> Here is a list of physical activities to stimulate your memory or imagination

You can also strap a competition car to your arse, and try to beat the quick peeps at an autocross track.


It can get a lot easier with time & adaptation. I used to hate, hate running. I started to take it more seriously because my wife-to-be liked to run. After a year or two of dedicated & conscientious training (about 500 miles) it's no longer so difficult, and in fact I began to need to run. Now I take my running clothes with me traveling to help me deal with stress.

The key mental switch for me was leaving behind the mindset of accomplishment through grind, tough, suffer, and instead train, train, train, and take it easy & enjoy yourself.

"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare"


Try a few before you give up. Boxing, martial arts, weightlifting, running, hiking, scuba, swimming, soccer, sword fighting - really, the options are endless.


Find a friend to do it together.


For more on this, check out “ Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by Dr. John Ratey.


I came here to comment the same tip. Great book that goes deep into this.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000SFD21Q


> For example, we recently showed that collegiate cross-country runners who train extensively on outdoor trails have increased connectivity among brain regions associated with executive cognitive functions compared with healthy but more sedentary young adults.

I've definitely noticed a cognitive boost when I switched from gym weightlifting to cardio/endurance based on outdoors activities (trailrunning, strenuous hikes). The latter has given me an intense calm and mental space to work on problems that I did not get from weightlifting.


> we have developed a game designed to specifically challenge aspects of cognition that tend to decline with age and that are probably needed during foraging. In the game, players spatially navigate and complete attention and memory tasks while cycling at a moderate aerobic intensity level.

Sounds interesting and potentially fun. And it might provide more motivation for exercise. Startup idea...


Or maybe host a tournament series where you host the top x amount of players and they all have to play while on a treadmill haha


There is a more interesting article in Scientific American and other places that humans evolved requiring an hour of vigorous exercise a day to avoid metabolic diseases like diabetes and dementia. Our closest relatives chimps and gorillas dont require vigorous exercise.


This article talks about this - it's the common hypothesis that switching to bipedal movement several million years ago is linked to the branching from our closest primate relatives, our diets changed to include hunting and a wider foraging range, hand in hand with changes in physiology for more movement and brain structure.


Hate it! Hate it! Hate it...


>>> Cognitively challenging exercise may benefit the brain more than physical activity that makes fewer cognitive demand.

This. I have noticed a significant mental “clearing” since I started boxing. Being forced to think when you are really tired is key.


Dancing is similar I guess, but less aggressive if people don't like boxing or fighting. Solo or with a partner or in a group, choose what you like.


Boxing/fighting seems to be pretty popular and I wonder about the head shots . . . how frequent and intense they may be in casual fighting. A lot is still unknown about the brain damage that can result from this kind of activity, particularly the subtle injuries that don't have an obvious single cause. I think the effects are a lot worse than most people think and it's NOT worth it.


I guess it really depends how the trainer organize his classes. In my case, my trainer is a former European champion, he knows the potential danger and he really cares about us. We use head protection, he pairs us wisely to avoid accidental injuries, sparring is optional, and 75% of our time is shadow boxing, heavy bag training and padding. So, we end up doing 3-4 rounds of sparring per week. I may get a couple of soft jabs in my head.


Like so many things, it's wise to evaluate the people who are teaching and the methods that they use. I toyed with the idea, but I decided against it because of my shoulders.


This is something I've observed personally, especially with running and mountain biking.

It had me pondering if perhaps humans evolved to become smarter in response to these frequent physical stressors. Like if we find ourselves regularly having to outrun predators and/or chasing prey to survive, it would probably be advantageous to grow smarter and depend less on endurance and speed.

So I've been taking an attitude that exercise is a faux form of brute-force survival. That the body will respond both by becoming stronger and smarter, as long as it continues experiencing having to run miles regularly to survive.


> regularly having to outrun predators and/or chasing prey to survive

"regularly" never happened. We are not cheetahs nor gazelles. Most popular ideas around "hunters gatherers" are false.

Australian aboriginals are a good example of how most of humans lived.


Citation needed.

My understanding is a major evolutionary advantage humans enjoyed is the exceptional ability to pursue prey for sustained periods, effectively wearing them out, thanks to our excellent endurance and the sophistication necessary for pacing one self.

If you weren't being smart about it, and sprinted like a scared deer, you'd exhaust yourself and fail. Well, perhaps that results in a mechanism of smarting up when we're over-exerting ourselves regularly.


Similar experience. Running clears my mind, improves cognitive capabilities, mental stamina and overall performance. Once I reached a "improved" state, then somehow I lose motivation to keep going until, I go back to state where I start feeling down or low on energy. This is going on for several years.

I wonder why brain dont get motivated/incentivized to keep it going(running or physical activity) when its in "improved" state and why it has to reach "feeling down" state to get motivated again. Is it just me or others have similar experience?


Sometimes I experience that, but my moods can be cyclic in general.

This is one area where discipline and a routine really helps. Just force yourself out into the activity, it'll always feel better afterwards.


" if we find ourselves regularly having to outrun predators"

Lol, humans will only run from a predator one time. This is not Hollywood, you don't outrun jaguars, bears or wolf packs.


Badminton is a great sport that requires lot of thinking and very fast movements and physical strength . I wish more people start playing that


I'd love to know if there's an above average tendency for those interested or working in the technology field also have a history with endurance related sports. I know a lot of really talented developers that are into biking/hiking/running.


I guess many of those sports are easily quantified, enhanced using technology (eg. bike computers, maps, running apps), and accessible without the need to be part of a larger social group.


The claim is that by running around outdoors, the brain gets used in a variety of ways such as navigation, decision-making, and sensory processing. Then why doesn't driving around in a car have similar benefits? Or does it?


They are vastly different things. Feeling the ground, constantly adapting your gait, managing your resources (consciously or otherwise), navigating, pacing yourself, the smells, the sounds, wind and weather. Your thoughts. Eventually hunger, thirst, and maybe an ache or so become noticeable. Pushing through anyway.

A car on the other hand has layers and layers of abstraction between you and your environment. Satnav, ABS, suspension, petrol gages, heated seats, lane-assist, gear boxes, seatbelts, AC, and automatic windscreen wipers.

Unless you're a racing driver in a suitably setup car, of course.


For the record, I believe the added blood flow from aerobic exercise is the most important factor -- I have no citation though. Being in a car is certainly different from being directly in the environment, but it's still mentally demanding, akin to a video game perhaps. I don't think the brain is somehow specially stimulated by natural inputs, so isolation of the body from the natural environment via technology should not make that much of a difference.

An experiment comparing treadmill running vs outside running (as mentioned in the article) would help determine to whether tasks like navigation and non-essential sensory stimuli like smelling the air contribute to BDNF levels. I'd be curious to see if there'd be a difference.


I doubt driving (or video games) engages the brain the same way.

Driving, you're heavily insulated from most noise (or, like in my Jeep, your hearing is overwhelmed by road noise). You're not smelling your environment, nor feeling it, and certainly you're not exercising as many muscle groups.

I'd speculate (ok, wild guess) that it's the combination of blood flow, muscle exercise, all of your senses, which is so beneficial. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Child_in_the_Woods.


I think the key is the amount of stress induced while driving. If you're driving an appliance like a Tesla or Camry you're getting next to zero stimulation. If you're driving,say, a clapped out, no powersteering, manual trans G-body, the level of stress and multitasking is an order of magnitude greater. Though in that case let's level of stress might be more if a detriment than a benefit.


Good question. It might - maybe that's why people say - driving is stressing or exhausting. One distinction - While running you are physically moving, and not while driving


Guessing, but i bet all the hardware subsystems are in play when actually moving all available limbs in space and time.


The same question could be asked for many video games, which require the same things.


It says in the article that cognitively demanding video games + exercise together equals more BDNF


Video games do exercise the mind...

>In particular, playing Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day over two months increased adult volunteers’ brain volume in their right hippocampus, the right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum. These regions in the brain are responsible for memory formation, strategic planning, muscle control, and spatial navigation.

https://lifehacker.com/study-shows-playing-video-games-reall...


Could it simply be because of exercising providing much needed break from focusing on worries in one's life? If so, any activity that one can enter into a state of flow can be beneficial.


No, the article's whole assertion is why exercise specifically causes these benefits. I don't know how "oh, maybe I just need to stop worrying about things to reap these same benefits and activate these same pathways" is a possible take-away from the article.

Though it's tempting wishful thinking because it saves us from leaving our computer chair. "Maybe I can just enter a flow mode learning Elm/Rust instead of exercising!"


It's easy to say, but if you are focusing on what worries you, without doing anything to work toward or resolve what is worrying you, it's really just wasted mental energy. Once you can be honest with yourself about having done everything you possibly/reasonably can to mitigate whatever you are worrying about, then you can let it go.


Definitely easier said than done.

There is even a tendency to fool ourselves into thinking that we have broken free of it, whilst still having that feeling of worry simmering in the background.


I think if you are a programmer you are working out every day.


Care to elaborate? The connection is not clear to me. Fine movements of fingers and arms isn't exactly the same as intensive full body work.


Is there a scientific way to distinguish evolutionary biology from bourgeois ideology?


Please don't post ideological flamebait to HN.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I'm not sure about what you mean but a lot of completely made up "popular science" seems to be easily sold as evolutionary science.

"Some people have longer ears than others. Maybe they were better able to hear predators and avoid them and therefore theirs genes spread further..."


Yeah, so much of it is made up just so stories, and those stories usually flatter the ruling class. It’s fashionable for CEOs to work out, so of course there’s a story about how it’s evolutionary biology reason that makes people smarter or whatever. That article was pretty short on experimental evidence.


Last I checked, Socialists were the ones who tried extremely hard to get everyone to be physically active. It was the Machismo Cuban Revolutionary who fought and won against decadent bourgeois ideology. Not the Sedentary Cuban Revolutionary...


I think it's more complicated than an association with any single broad ideological category. For instance, fascists tend to be very big on promoting physical fitness, presumably because it's a natural nexus between the obsessions with vitality and militarism.




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