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Exercise and Nutrition

Exercise & the Brain

Exercise helps to keep our brain in peak performance and is crucial to the way that we think and feel. Exercise cues the building blocks of learning in brain that affects mood, anxiety, attention and guards against stress as well as reversing some of the side effects of aging.

Exercise & Neurotransmitters

What are Neurotransmitters?

A chemical that is released from a nerve cell which thereby transmits an impulse from a nerve cell to another nerve, muscle, organ, or other tissue. A neurotransmitter is a messenger of neurologic information from one cell to another.

Exercise increases:

  • Serotonin
    • Vital to mood, anxiousness, impulsivity, learning and self-esteem
    • Low levels = insomnia, depression, food cravings, increased sensitivity to pain
  • Norepinephrine
    • Affects arousal, alertness, attention, and mood.
  • Dopamine
    • Vital to movement, attention, motivation, pleasure, and addiction.
  • GABA (gamma amino butyric acid)
    • Inhibits overactivity of all nerve cells especially the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain.
  • Glutamate
    • Stirs up activity to begin the signaling cascade between the neurons and with repetition the connection becomes stronger. It is critical to cell binding and…

      “neurons that fire together wire together”


What are Growth Factors?

A family of proteins that build and maintain the cell circuitry, the infrastructure of the brain.

  • BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
    • Energy metabolism & synaptic plasticity
    • Increases production of antioxidants
    • Increases production of protective proteins
    • Stimulates the growth of new nerve cells……Miracle-Gro of the Brain

Exercise Releases Hormones that work with BDNF to Increase the Capacity for Learning

  • IGF-I (insulin-like growth factor)
    • Regulates glucose throughout the body and the brain (its’ sole energy source)
    • Activates neurons to produce the signaling neurotransmitters, serotonin and glutamate
  • VEGF (vascular endolthelial growth factor-protein)
    • Builds capillaries in the body and the brain
    • Helps the blood/brain barrier become more permeable allowing other factors into the brain
  • FGF-2 (fibroblast growth factor)
    • Helps the brain tissue to grow

Together BDNF, IGF-I, VEGF, and FGF-2 provide the building materials and oversight for the construction of new connections and neurons.


Low intensity – 55–65% of MHR (maximum heart rate)

  • Produces serotonin, BDNF & blood flow

Moderate Intensity – 65–75% of MHR

  • Also produces VEGF, FGF-2 & antioxidants
  • ANP (atrial natriuretic peptide) relieves emotional stress & reduces anxiety
  • Endorphins & Endocannabinoids

High Intensity – 75–90% of MHR

  • achieved with interval training (30–60 sec)
  • HGH (human growth hormone)
  • Burns belly fat, builds muscle fiber, pumps up brain volume
  • Balances Neurotransmitter levels
  • Increases IGF-I considered the linchpin of activity, fuel and learning also switching on the genes that are responsible for neuronal growth!


General Health Benefits of Exercise

  1. It strengthens the cardiovascular system
  2. It regulates fuel
  3. It reduces obesity
  4. It elevates your stress threshold
  5. It lifts your mood
  6. It boosts the immune system
  7. It fortifies your bones
  8. It boosts motivation
  9. It fosters neuroplasticity


Stress places a great demand on our calming neurotransmitters by depleting their nutritional building blocks. As our calming neurotransmitters decline the stimulating ones dominate by default, creating an imbalance that can alter how we think, feel and act.

Calming Neurotransmitters:

  • Serotonin
  • GABA
  • Melatonin
  • Nitric Acid

Stimulating Neurotransmitters:

  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine
  • Cortisol
  • Phenylethylamine

When the body is under stress it uses up resources that include:

  • B vitamins: These help the body cope with stress (build your metabolism) and control the whole nervous system.
  • Proteins: Assist in growth and tissue repair
  • A vitamins: Essential for normal vision
  • C vitamins: Protection of the immune system (antioxidants, diabetes protection etc.). Lowers the amount of cortisol in your body.
  • Magnesium: Needed for a variety of tasks such as muscle relaxation, fatty acid formation, making new cells and heartbeat regulation.

When under stress, it is important to consume all important nutrients in order for your body to cope and function effectively. You can find these nutrients in a wide variety of foods.

  • B vitamins: There are many B vitamin types, each as important as its counterpart. B vitamins can be found in foods such as seaweed and raw foods.
  • Proteins and Iron: Meats, eggs, seeds, nuts
  • A vitamins: Cheese, eggs, fish with oil, milk
  • C vitamins: Fruits (apple, banana, orange)
  • Magnesium: Green leaved vegetables (e.g. cabbage), fish, meat and dairy products, and dark chocolate. Magnesium is a very important element that needs to be consumed regularly. Aside from the above, magnesium deficiencies are also linked to stress personality faults such as uneasiness and anxiety.

Here are some simple guidelines to follow:


  • some protein at each meal
  • variety of high-fiber/non-starchy vegetables
  • variety of high-fiber/non-starchy fruits
  • use olive-oil
  • drink water & teas


  • Unhealthy Food Choices
  • fast food
  • prepackaged meals
  • trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils)
  • excessive sugar
Facilitating positive lifestyle behaviors through awareness and self-care