Why your clients must be smart to train with you

Clients may start exercising for physical reasons, but the mental benefits are also manifold, says Delia McCabe.

What’s the main reason that clients and participants give for training or working out with you? To lose weight and look good? Fair enough, but there’s more to be gained than improved appearances alone. It’s worth reminding your clients and participants of the many other benefits that exercise can bring. As this story illustrates, focusing on the many other effects of fitness (i.e. not just physical appearance) can help people realise that exercise can improve almost every area of their lives.

Most people start an exercise program to get their body into shape. Very few realise that they can also improve brain function (and mood) when they make exercise a regular activity.

The BDNF factor!

One of the ways that exercise benefits your brain starts deep within your muscles. Chemicals from your working muscles are sent into your bloodstream, which then cross the blood–brain barrier into your brain. There they start increasing the production of a very important chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which acts like fertiliser for your neurons, encouraging them to stay healthy and keep growing, even helping to grow new neurons in the hippocampus. This is how exercise can improve memory.

By exercising regularly, your brain builds up reserves of BDNF, which stimulates neurons to start branching out, joining together and forming new connections. This is what underlies new learning — every new connection made between your neurons is a sign of a new skill or fact or name that you have learned, and which you are putting into storage for future use. So, brains with more BDNF have a greater capacity for learning new things.

Unfortunately, a brain that has no or very low supplies of BDNF will switch off to new knowledge, and have trouble recalling information that has already been stored. Furthermore, with ageing, our levels of BDNF fall naturally, so to maintain them, researchers suggest regular exercise to optimise BDNF production. In addition, BDNF can help to restore neurons to a healthier state and to reverse some of the damage that may already have occurred to them.

Another great piece of news is that the frontal lobes of your brain, which are its executive functioning area, helping to oversee and dictate your decision making, anticipatory planning, pattern detection and self-discipline, can get bigger if you exercise regularly. Having optimally functioning frontal lobes increases your enjoyment of life, as you make better decisions, are more goal-orientated, and enjoy a better, more positive outlook on life.

Mighty mitochondria

Your cells produce energy in tiny little energy factories within your cells called mitochondria. Researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise over a period of six weeks can increase the number of mitochondria present in your muscle cells by up to 40 to 50 per cent. The result of having more mitochondria is less fatigue, less exertion required when exercising, and greater endurance.

Mitochondria are intriguing to researchers, who believe that they may hold the key to managing disease and ageing, including that of the body and brain. To get this benefit you need to walk briskly, cycle, swim, run or do other exercise that raises the heart rate for at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, three to four times a week. To maintain this new level of increased mitochondria, you will have to keep exercising regularly.

As you age, your mitochondria work less efficiently, which is why the focus is on keeping them healthy, and exercise is a great way to do this very effectively. This phenomena is not limited to the muscles of the body – the mitochondria in the brain, specifically in the hippocampus, become more efficient at producing energy and this in turn influences the ability of neurons to grow, adapt and change.

Nourishing the brain

To facilitate optimal physical exercise and make it easy to exercise regularly, it is really important to feed your brain optimally too. After all, it’s not just the body that benefits when you provide energy in the form of unrefined and nutrient-dense carbohydrates, clean protein to stimulate muscle growth and maintenance, and the right fats to help with energy production, metabolism, muscle recovery and hormonal balance. These important nutrients fuel and stimulate optimal brain function in critically important ways too, as do specific vitamins and minerals (THIS article has more on nutrition for a healthy, happy brain). As an added bonus, when you nourish your brain, you make it much easier to stay focused and committed to regular exercise, because your mood improves and becomes more stable and thinking becomes clearer.


Delia McCabe is the author of Feed Your Brain (Exisle 2016) available here and wherever good books are sold. She has a Masters in Psychology and is completing her doctorate on the effects of nutrients on female stress. For more information go to lighterbrighteryou.life]