Physical exertion leads to mental alertness behind the wheel
By LaNeta Crighton
You know that exercise can help you drop pounds, but did you realize that it also lets you gain energy that will keep you sharp while on the road?
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found exercise can increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain and release chemicals that fuel the brain. A good workout even helps the brain grow new nerve cells, something most experts thought was impossible for adults over the age of 30.
In other studies exercise has been linked to reduced stress and anxiety, improved creativity, mood elevation, increased thinking skills and even decreased risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Senior citizens who walked on a regular basis were found to have better memory and concentration than those who didn’t, and the same study showed that the risk of mental decline was decreased 13 percent for each extra mile walked per week.
Boosting brain power doesn’t require spending a lot of money on a fancy gym membership or high-tech equipment, either.
“We’re really talking about aerobic exercise,” says Dr. Gomez-Pinilla. “Weight lifting and strength training can be good for you in a different way, but the brain really needs aerobic exercise.”
He notes that taking a brisk walk during stops is enough to improve mental alertness in drivers and help maintain focus on the road.
Michael Olpin, Ph.D., Professor of Health Promotion at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, says when drivers sit for extended periods of time, blood can pool in the lower half of the body.
“Our bodies weren’t designed to sit,” says Olpin. “They were designed to be flexible and move.”
Bursts of low intensity, aerobic exercise increases breathing and heart rate which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This helps to clear thought processes and improves your focus and attention.
What better reason to run or jump before you drive?
Simple exercises to do on the road
Mark Millsap, MEd., Running Coordinator at CoxHealth Fitness Centers in Springfield, Missouri says moderate activity several times a week can improve both physical and mental function. He gives some simple tips for exercising on the road with little or no equipment.
Walk. Keep a good pair of running or walking shoes with you and look for opportunities to take a few laps around a parking lot. Find an exercise buddy to help you keep a good pace.
Calisthenics. Remember gym class or boot camp? Jumping jacks, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and windmills are all good for revving the heart rate and getting the blood flowing.
Jump rope. An inexpensive jump rope is lightweight and fits in a small space. When you don’t have a lot of room to move, this is a perfect option. Five minutes of jumping rope is equivalent to running one mile.
Pump iron. Cardio exercise should be the focus of a good exercise program, but a set of dumbbells is an easy way to build strength and muscle tone. Ditto for stretch bands.