Monday, December 17, 2012

The Mind-Body Connection

There has been a lot of interesting research out there talking about sport performance and the power of the mind.

1) The Central Governor:
Cardiovascular capacity and the body's muscle fatigue were once thought to limit endurance exercise. However, there has been more and more research coming out recently that it is the brain that starts and ends exercise. The theory is that the central nervous system(i.e. the brain) integrates various inputs related to exercise and will limit the intensity and duration of recruitment of muscle fibers to prevent injury to the body. This is commonly known as the "central governor".

 It is the brain's job to keep you safe so if you put it in a situation it doesn't think you can sustain without doing damage to yourself, it will try to shut you down. The interesting thing is that you can train it so that you create a higher threshold needed to make it want to shut you down. High intensity interval training may also be helpful to teach your body to increase its "shut-down" threshold.

The governah can also be ignored to a certain degree. That fatigue that you feel in your legs during a time trial? Most likely your brain is trying to make it seem worse than it really is. The best athletes are the ones that can differentiate their central governor's pestering with actual true fatigue.

  2)Motivation and Neuroplasticity
There has been quite a bit of research on mice and enriched environments. By enriched they typically mean things other than just food and water in a cage. Like a running wheel. Researchers have found that mice that are provided a running wheel can double their brain cells. These brain cells are important too as they go to part of the brain that processes messages and these new cells act as replacements for the damaged or aging cells. The caveat is that it has to be voluntary. Forcing mice to run on a treadmill did nothing for their brain's neurogensis and development. The same is likely with humans. Forcing yourself to do exercise because your doctor instructed you to is most likely not going to yield(in regards to the brain) the same benefits. This is not to say the positive effects of exercise such as bone density and cardiovascular and muscular fitness are not important, but that why not get the most bang for your buck? Let's find an exercise that does all that and stimulates your mind. Find something you truly love(or at least not dread) and you will be the better for it.

3)  Mental Rehearsal:
In a recent experiment researchers found six specific autonomic nervous system responses(skin potential and resistance, skin temperature and heat clearance, instantaneous heart rate, and respiratory frequency) that correlated with mental rehearsal, thereby improving sports performance. In another study, mental rehearsal was found to activate the motor cortex of the brain-it was making the motor synapses more efficient for when actual movement then occurred.

Theories behind mental rehearsal's positive effects include:

        a) Psychoneuromuscular theory which maintains rehearsal duplicates the actual motor pattern that is being rehearsed and those motor patterns generated during imagery practice are the same as those used for physical practice.

       b) Symbolic learning theory which suggests mental rehearsal works from the opportunity to practice the symbolic elements of a motor task thus is related to cognitive learning.

       c) Arousal/activation theory suggests that one will obtain a level of arousal that is optimal for the specific performance which then primes the muscles to lower the sensory threshold of the performer to facilitate performance with less restriction.

4) Mindful Meditation:
A huge part of training and performance is recovery and excessive stress hormones can slow down the recovery process as well as weaken the immune system. Mindful Meditation whether it be focusing on your breath, doing a body scan, or participating in yoga can all help reduce those stress hormones and help facilitate recovery. Additionally, it allows you to gain insight into your thoughts and may expose you to some negative feelings that you had that you may not have been aware of. By recognizing your fears and doubts you can then work to address them and focus on improving yourself. Mindful Meditation has been shown to increase patterns of learning and also the brain to adopt different thinking parts which can help thwart off further negative thoughts or feelings.

So as you start your upcoming race season or just want to gain a little fitness while living your life, train your central governor in a sport that you really want to participate in, practice both physically and mentally; and be mindful of how your body responds. This may just make it your best season yet.

1 comment:

  1. Or as Yogi Berra said, half of athletic success is 90% mental. (Or something like that.)