No matter how many pounds a person can lift or how fast he or she can run, the body is still a slave to the mind. The body requires the brain to function, but beyond enabling people to walk, jump and breathe, how much does the brain affect the body?
A new study conducted by researchers at Ohio University’s Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute and published in the Journal of Neurophysiology demonstrates that the brain plays a large role in maintaining muscle strength. In fact, it is critical in preserving it. Researchers found that mental imagery training--imagining oneself doing exercise--prevented a significant amount of muscle loss as opposed to when a person did not engage the mind.
These findings are important for anyone who sustains an injury that prevents them from moving a certain part of the body. It seems that while physical therapy may begin after a broken leg or arm comes out of a cast, there is a lot a person can do to facilitate recovery right from the start. By picturing the immobile limb doing simple exercises, such as contracting muscles or pushing against a wall, it maintains the connections in the brain that know how to do those exercises. That way, when someone does begin physical therapy or heals to a point where they can move the injured body part, the body is more prepared for those motions.
The mind is a powerful tool. If simply imagining exercise can strengthen muscle, what other connections can mental imagery reinforce? As bizarre as it seems to sit and imagine doing activities without actually doing them, it does help the body remember and prepare. When students are studying, envisioning themselves in the test setting might prove useful.
Similarly, strengthening memory prior to needing it to study for an exam may enhance a student’s ability to remember more details. During vacation, instead of turning on “beach brain,” it might prove useful to think about a math problem or a topic encountered in the previous semester. Students might find that they can adjust to their new schedule better and integrate themselves back into a work regimen by merely imagining themselves doing it.
The brain needs exercise just like any other muscle in the body. People forget foreign languages or math formulas when they are not used. The body is no different. People should test their brains and use as many connections as they can. It will improve functioning in the rest of the body and slow deterioration.
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