Exercise for your brain and body after brain injury
With the world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, as a nation we are largely remaining indoors to help slow the spread of the virus or you are on the frontline in the NHS and other services, working hard to help all those affected.
The days have been sunnier and winter seems long ago. Whilst most of us are able to take one trip outside for exercise, it seems a good opportunity to try and keep active.
There are numerous ways to keep active both outdoors and indoors during this time and this can also be hugely important to those that have suffered a brain injury.
What are the benefits of physical exercise?
The benefits of physical exercise are pretty universally well-known. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or more of a couch potato, we are all normally encouraged to get active.
Physical exercise has a way of making us feel better, fitter and healthier. It can also be hugely important for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Depending on the degree of damage to the brain, the effects of a brain injury can be very wide-ranging. It can involve cognitive and physical changes such as difficulty with speech and reduced mobility as well as ‘invisible difficulties’ like fatigue and memory loss.
Physical exercise can therefore present additional challenges for those who have suffered a brain injury. However, some evidence suggests that exercise can improve the extent of one’s recovery.
Improved recovery rates
A study carried out by the University of Queensland found that aerobic physical activity could assist recovery following a brain injury.
The study suggested a link between regular aerobic exercise and levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) proteins. These proteins are found in the peripheral and central nervous systems and could contribute to the brain’s ability to rejuvenate after a brain injury and improve motor performance.
The results showed an increased level of BDNF in those that undertook regular aerobic exercise. However, a single episode of aerobic exercise made no significant impact on the levels of BDNF.
Although the results are positive, there has not been much other research carried out in this area and further research is still needed to explore these links.
There are other benefits that aerobic exercise can bring beyond improvement to recovery.
A brain injury can hugely impact levels of confidence and can sometimes create feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Regular exercise has the potential to improve this through release of certain hormones, but also through engagement with other people.
Attendees of a weekly creative dance class for those with an acquired brain injury or stroke, reported some significant outcomes. The classes, provided by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, in collaboration with Headway Lewisham and Kings College Hospital, found that 89% of attendees had experienced improvement to their psychological wellbeing, 77% experienced an improvement to their confidence and 100% experienced a positive impact to their physical health.
Whilst classes like these are no longer being run due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of other ways to get involved in a group class such as:
- Live Instagram/Facebook workouts with trainers such as Joe Wicks (the Body Coach)
- Live dance classes with instructors such as Oti Mabuse
- Yoga, Pilates and other types of classes that help with the body and mindfulness on YouTube
As the weeks pass, we are likely to see more and more ways to get involved in exercise and classes from our TV, iPads and computers.
Exercise can have a way of connecting people with their communities, making us feel more positive and help promote overall wellbeing.
Milton Keynes Marathon
With the beautiful weather, it is also a great time to get outdoors for a run, gentle jog or even a walk. I have been enjoying the sunshine and being able to go outdoors for my one form of exercise per day.
Several members of my local Headway group, Headway Milton Keynes, are also running to raise all important funds for Headway in this year’s big marathon weekend. Runners will be covering distances of a half marathon and the full 26½ miles.
Although the marathon has currently been postponed to October 2020, most runners are still keeping up their training as their outdoor exercise.
I am really looking forward to cheering on the runners when the race is reconvened in October and supporting such a brilliant charity.
Headway is a fantastic charity that works to improve life after brain injury by providing vital support and information to individuals with brain injury, and their families. Headway is also committed to raising awareness about brain injury and lobbying to help improve access to much needed support and services.
So my message to all of you out there is get moving, and reap the benefits for both your mind and body!