Having suffered a car accident, I had some serious injuries. These included my spine, nerves and my brain. I had foot drop, where when you raise your leg, you can not raise your foot from your ankle, leaving it to hang limply. That means you cannot put any weight on it and it will not offer any support or flexibility. On top of this, due tExerciseo a damaged nerve in my neck, and had weakness down my left side. However after 10 days, the hospital team got me walking with crutches, and sent me home.
I knew that I needed to do some exercise to help rebuild some of my strength. But what I didn’t know was how good exercise is for your brain as well.
We all know that the more you practise at something, the better you will get at it. Well, the brain is just the same. Every time you perform an action, you are creating the building blocks for a new pathway in your brain. Let me give you an example. I used to love painting and drawing. But following my brain injury, I could barely write legibly. For me this was depressing, as my art was a part of who I was. My partner James, kept badgering me to keep trying although I felt he just didn’t understand. I couldn’t make my hand follow the instructions I gave it properly, leaving me frustrated.
Exercise doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym. Just practise a physical activity.
So many sheets of paper ended up in the bin. (I would like to apologise to the trees who were sacrificed for my cause.) But in time my writing improved, and I found my artistic flair returning to me. Just by reminding the muscles in my hand and arm how to behave, I had begun to regain my skill. But it wasn’t because the muscles needed to be rebuilt, it was because my brain needed to create new pathways to replace those that were damaged. This is the same process as when you learn a skill for the first time, and why your mother always said “practise makes perfect.” The more we do an action, the more the brain prioritises building pathways which make a shortcut to that action.
Now I know you are saying “but Michelle drawing and writing isn’t exercise.” And yes you are right, but I wanted to share this example with you to help you see that although there is the physical muscles movements, there is much more that needs to happen and I think we can all agree agree creativity is something very much in your brain.
Think about how in sports there is a tactical element, spacial awareness, problem solving… the list goes on.
I’m now 5 years on from my accident, and most people wouldn’t notice my slight limp. For someone who struggled to walk for so long, that’s not bad. I still have nerve damage, and I may do for the rest of my life, but I can deal with it. I’d be frightened to go skiing again, but it doesn’t affect my everyday life much at all. Yes I get pain and tire much easier, but I can cope with that.
My brain is still trying to repair my cognitive skills. Bearing in mind I couldn’t read or write to start with, I think it’s fair to say it’s doing a pretty good job. I even set up this website all by myself even though I had no experience of doing this sort of thing before. (If you are thinking of starting a blog but aren’t sure where to start head over to Starting a blog following a brain injury is difficult, but it is achievable to get some ideas on how to get going.)
No matter what your fitness level, or sporting ability never underestimate the importance of exercise.
You don’t need to run like you’re Mo Farah, just find something you enjoy which you can fit into your busy schedule. Dance, yoga and swimming are all great options. As evidence is growing to show regular exercise can stave off dementia, your brain will thank you for it. We all have days when just getting out of bed is an achievement, so don’t feel any shame in taking it easy. But just remember your efforts will encourage enhancements in much more than just becoming physically stronger. Your mental health and general well being will benefit too. Exercise can help your brain injury recovery process and you might even discover a talent for something new that you never knew you had.
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