How exercise changes your brain and Anxiety is your Superpower

Every morning, my guest on this week’s episode starts her day with 30-minutes of exercise. She knows – from personal experience backed by scientific research – that this makes her more focused, happy, motivated, and even creative. She knows it’ll help her grow new brain cells and neural pathways, long into old age. And she wants you to reap all these benefits too.
Dr Wendy Suzuki is a neuroscientist and a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University’s Center for Neural Science. Her 2016 book Healthy Brain, Happy Life is a thought-provoking, life-changing look at the plasticity of the brain – and the research-based ways we can change it for the better.

In our conversation, Wendy shares her realisation that the ‘bubble bath of feelgood chemicals’ released during movement were having powerful unexpected effects in her brain. And she explains how even just a small amount of exercise creates profound changes in the brain that go much further than simply boosting mood.

We talk about the effect exercise had on the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical for long-term memory and imagination, as well as the pre-frontal cortex, responsible for our working, moment-to-moment memory. It’s all inspiring proof that our brains are plastic and can change at any age, and that we can take action to make them healthier, younger and stronger. We also discuss anxiety. Wendy’s latest book, provocatively titled Anxiety Is Your Superpower is all about reframing this ‘misunderstood emotion’ as a signal designed to protect us. Anxiety and fear levels have certainly risen over the past few years but if we can understand anxiety as part of the fight or flight stress response, says Wendy, we can begin to see it as an evolutionary tool for productivity. The key, she says, is turning a panicked list of ‘what ifs’ into a practical list of ‘to dos’. Wendy explains the detrimental effects of alcohol on brain health, the wonders of meditation and how listening to your favourite piece of music is one of the easiest ways to nourish your brain.
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