The ancients intuitively understood the link between mind and body, now supported by science.
Thanks to myokines, proteins in muscle tissue, this link has been found to be real and physical. They in fact facilitate communication between body and brain, influencing cognition and emotions.
Exercise promotes brain plasticity, benefiting learning, memory and mental health in aging.
It is amazing to see how much the ancients had insight into things that science, a few millennia later, explained and proved. Take the saying “Mens sana in corpore sano”: a trained and healthy body is governed by an equally healthy mind, or, read from the opposite point of view, a healthy mind can only belong to a body that is equally healthy.
Today science shows that there is a physical link between mind and body, between brain and muscle, and what the ancient Romans understood on an intuitive and philosophical level has a very clear biological root.
What this connection is is explained by the MIT Technology Review, speaking of a real “conversation” constantly going on between body and brain. The organ most involved in this dialogue and one of the largest and most extensive in our body, although we do not normally imagine it as an organ: it is the muscle tissues.
The messenger that allows this organ to talk to other parts of the body and especially to the brain are protein called myokines. The powers of these protein are super, so much so that they can create new cells and stimulate interesting processes in the brain. What processes are we talking about? Cognitive, metabolic, and physiological affecting cognition, mood, and emotional state.
Movement plays a special role in this dialogue, as it functions as an accelerator of these processes, increasing the plasticity of synapses and even the formation of new neurons, with extraordinary consequences for learning and memorization capacity. That’s right: those who move (and thus think what running does!) are able to learn and memorize more easily.
This link implies that the more constant the ability to keep the body and its muscles in an optimal functional state, the more the brain benefits. The ability of muscles to grow in mass and fortify themselves decreases as we age, which is why exercise also has the function-as the body ages-to keep this dialogue alive, allowing both the muscle to regenerate and the brain to remain plastic, that is, to be able to constantly reconfigure and “rewire.”
Receiving the most benefit from exercise, especially as we age, is the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory. Its size and function tend to decline with age, leading in the most extreme cases to dementia. Exercise, even moderate exercise, delays and counteracts this physiological degeneration, helping the brain to remain relatively young at all times. For example, it has been shown that physical activity counteracts the degeneration of cognitive abilities in individuals who have had neurological damage. Similarly, a lack of exercise impairs intellectual abilities and memory, which affects overall mobility.
It is natural at a young age not to have such thoughts; life seems full of possibilities and free of ailments. As they say, it seems to have all the time in the world. Instead, as you get older, you realize that your existential perspective narrows and that it is important to invest primarily in health, if only to ensure future years as peaceful as possible. Body and mind already know this and in fact have established this dialogue since birth.
It is up to you and us to keep it alive. Running or, more generally, moving. They then know what to do: they talk to each other and understand each other. And they make your life easier.