It is well known that participating in regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular and musculoskeletal adaptations. These include strength and endurance gains, increased lean muscle mass, improved fitness, reduced fat mass, and weight loss. Whilst it is fairly easy to get set in our ways when it comes to the exercises we complete in our program, these exercises can become automatous without holding any interest or challenge. Maintaining your routine and participating in exercise on a regular basis is important, however staying engaged, continuing to challenge yourself, and making changes to the exercise programming is key. The reasoning behind this is to further progress and improve the above adaptations. When participating in an exercise routine that is no longer challenging on the body physical adaptations that can occur will plateau and the only benefit you will be getting out of your program is maintaining your current physical state.
Similarly, the central nervous system also benefits from regular participation in exercise. The central nervous system (CNS) comprises of the brain and spinal cord. These areas of the body are used for mental processing and control the majority of movement. When participating in exercise a fantastic response happens; this is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process in which the brain reorganises its neural pathways (made up of neurons) with the aim of optimizing neural function. However one key component that is required and must be included in your exercise routine for this to occur is stimulating the neural pathways you wish to improve by trying new movements and activities. These exercises can be in the form of challenging coordination, learning new movement patterns, multi-joint movements and cognition. The following are just a few examples of these type of exercises:
|Dead bug – coordinating the arm and leg movements together ||Plank hand taps – Reacting to stimulus ||Single leg Romanian deadlift – complex multi-joint movement |
These types of exercises to promote neuroplasticity can also be beneficial for those with a neurological condition, as neuroplasticity can compensate for damage or injury to the neural pathways in the CNS. This is achieved by optimising the function of the synapses which control the neural signals passing through each neuron in the neural pathway. When this signal reaches the end of it’s neural pathway, the action is executed. This is advantageous as the more frequent a weaker or damaged neural pathway is stimulated, through performing various tasks, neuroplasticity works to improve neural function. It should be noted that whilst neuroplasticity optimises synaptic function, it does not regenerate or fix damaged neural pathways. Below is a summary of this process.