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He is a neuroscientist, doctor, author and lecturer. In an exclusive interview with ARTZT neuro, Prof. Dr. Volker Busch reveals how he, as a neurologist, assesses the trend topic of neuroathletics.
Dr Busch, you once said the following sentence in relation to the topic of the brain and movement: "The development of cognitive performance begins with movement". What is that all about?
Yes, that is true. Because exercise brings into play many factors that can significantly improve our cognition. These include improving blood circulation, oxygen supply and nourishment of the nerve cells, but also the removal of metabolic waste products. And for some years now we have also known that physical exercise also triggers a number of growth processes in the brain, i.e. forming new nerve cells (neurogenesis) and integrating them into a stable synaptic network.
This, in turn, can improve our brain function.
This in turn can improve our mental performance. And several prospective studies comparing older athletic people over years with their passive peers concluded that regular exercise can even increase our so-called cognitive reserve. So our mental decline is postponed if we keep moving. External movement promotes our internal movement.
What does a lack of exercise do to our brain?
Over 60% of brain mass is associated with motor control. Intuitively, one might think that the human brain is primarily for thinking. Strictly speaking, however, this is rather a minor matter. Motor control requires much more neuronal activity and energy than thinking. That is why these areas still take up the most space. However, if we hardly move in everyday life, these areas are no longer stimulated and partly regress. There is an economy principle behind this: what is not functionally needed does not need to be nourished with oxygen and glucose. In technical language, this economic rule is: "Use it or lose it".
"Neuroathletic training could mean an immense benefit for our patients, by the way, for very different complaints and clinical pictures. Pain is just one example of this."
What should neuroplasticity-promoting exercise look like from your point of view?
According to everything we know about it so far, complex movements and motor processes are particularly appealing to the brain and thus also to neuroplastic growth. The strongest stimulation of nerve cells is surprise. This also applies to movements: When going for a walk, this complexity is absent. When climbing, dancing or doing coordinatively demanding athletics, on the other hand, it is a central component of motor activity and means a constant influx of new signals that the brain has to process and respond to. This keeps neural activity on its toes and increases the likelihood that freshly formed nerve cells will survive longer.
What influence do perception and environment have on our brain
In digital worlds, we have to be careful that perception and learning do not remain too theoretical or limited to the screen in two dimensions. Here, too, movement helps us to better grasp the environment: human cognition is "embodied", one speaks of embodied cognition. This means that our brain does not store objects, facts or complex situations abstractly, but almost always in connection with motor sequences and processes.
If you ask subjects to think of a hammer, it is not so much those areas that store the lexical meaning of the word that become active, but much more those areas that have to do with the execution of the hammer movement.
So our brain stores and remembers things in the form of embodied memories. Of course, this only works if we have observed how to use a hammer before or have done so ourselves. For this reason, sustainable learning is always tied to experience. To every theory belongs the practice of execution. This creates embodiment of memories -and thus their long-term storage.
A current trend is neuroathletic training. Here, the focus is primarily on perception and information processing as the basis for good and pain-free movement. Does this make sense to you from the point of view of neuroscience?
Neuroathletics and neuro-centred training methods are the consistent further development of the findings from laboratory studies on the influence of movement on the nervous system. Their scientific effectiveness is still pending in many cases, we are still in the early stages here. Nevertheless, I consider it extremely important to deal with the topic in the form of application observations and, in the best case, through controlled studies.
Neurocentric training could mean immense benefits for our patients, by the way, for very different complaints and clinical pictures. Pain is just one example. In fact, this indication is particularly exciting. It is conceivable, for example, that the afferent influx of proprioceptive and coordinative highly complex information during such training could support a neuronal reorganisation of pain-processing areas in the brain.
This would then lead to an increase in the number of pain-processing areas in the brain.
This would then contribute to a restoration of the original structural conditions and consecutively reduce pain, similar to what we are already familiar with in certain stimulus-physiological forms of treatment for phantom pain and have even been able to prove neuronally in the meantime.
About the person
Prof. Dr. Volker Busch is Speaker of the Year 2021, podcaster, bestselling author as well as a specialist in neurology, psychiatry and psychotherapy and prefers to occupy himself with his passion: the world of the mind and brain.
As head of a neuroscientific research group at the University of Regensburg, he and his team research the psychophysiological correlations of stress, pain and emotions and work therapeutically with people suffering from stress of various kinds, accompanying them on the path to mental health and contentment.
In addition, he has been sharing his knowledge and experience for many years in the form of keynotes/lectures, seminars and publications, helping managers, employees and his fellow human beings to achieve greater brain health, motivation and inspiration.
So he creates a beautiful marriage of literature, laboratory and people's lives.
Podcast: Gehirn Gehört
You can learn more about how the brain and movement are connected in the podcast episode The Moving Brain from Dr. Busch's podcast Gehirn Gehört. The current episode Start! Why the first step is the most important (06.01.2023) can be found here.