Have you noticed that getting out and walking makes a difference in your clarity of thought? Does eating a healthful dinner improve your creativity?
The ancient Greeks maintained that a physically fit and strong body leads to a sound mind, and that the mind is made more lucid with exercise. In 335 B.C., Aristotle started his “Peripatetic School” (named because of his habit of walking up and down the paths of the Lyceum in Athens while thinking or lecturing to his students). Socrates also practiced the art of peripatetic, as did Oliver Wendell Holmes, centuries later. And Albert Einstein, when asked how he came up with the theory of relativity, is quoted as saying, “I thought of that while riding my bike.” More recently, John F. Kennedy once proclaimed: “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body; it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. Intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is strong. Hardy spirits and tough minds usually inhabit sound bodies.”
Given ancient wisdom, and recent research which validates these beliefs, there’s no question that we all benefit from regular activity. Whether it’s speed of cognition, attention, decision making or other complex mental tasks that take place in the prefrontal cortex, exercise activates the left prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that’s involved in these tasks.
So we know what to do with our bodies as far as exercise is concerned, right? Here’s how to tie it in with what you eat! Based on research conducted by Dr. Robert McNamara at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, we need to pay attention to the amount of DHA (one of the four omega-3 fatty acids found in food), the principal fatty acid in brain gray matter has both neuroprotective and neurotropic properties. DHA positively regulates cortical metabolic function and cognitive development (hence the term neurotropic, which refers to those properties that having an affinity for nerve cells or tissue). While the clinical evidence is still preliminary, this research, published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, bodes well for those of us who have conscientiously been consuming low mercury, cold-water fish (like salmon, trout and herring) at least twice per week.. DHA is contained in varying amounts in fish oils, with those from cold-water fish containing higher amounts. Interestingly, the positive correlation between DHA and cognitive function is related to consumption in foods, not supplementation.
Omega-3s have also been found to reduce joint tenderness from rheumatoid arthritis, and they might elevate mood, in addition to fighting some cancers and eye disease. It’s unclear whether the ALA form of ometga-3s in flaxseed and some vegetable oils provide the same health benefits, so while flaxseed has many health benefits, it doesn’t substitute for DHA-rich foods.