Since his teenage years growing up in North Vancouver, Brendan Brazier has known that regular exercise and proper nutrition yield numerous physical benefits. Brazier, a vegetarian, was a professional Ironman triathlete until a cycling injury ended his career. He later developed a plant-based blender drink called Vega, based on a natural smoothie he created at 15 to spur greater athletic performance.
In recent years, however, Brazier has gained a much greater appreciation of the positive impact that exercise can have on a person’s mental well-being. In his new book, Thrive Fitness: Mental and Physical Strength for Life (Penguin Canada, $24), he explains how regular physical activity can augment brain health and spur greater creativity.
“I came across some really interesting things that supported right-brain stimulation—the right brain being the creative half of the brain,” Brazier said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.
It’s a follow-up to his earlier book, The Thrive Diet: The Whole Foods Way to Losing Weight, Reducing Stress, and Staying Healthy for Life (Penguin Canada, 2007). In the new book, he provides a list of “repeat-pattern aerobic activities” that includes biking, hiking, in-line skating, rowing, running, speed skating, swimming, and brisk walking. He maintains that these exercises stimulate the right brain and enhance creativity.
That’s because these activities give the brain a break from being bombarded with information. Brazier suggests in his new book that by avoiding information overload—either through yoga, meditation, or running and cycling—you can allow the brain to synthesize new ideas.
He also points out in his book that exercise increases blood circulation, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the brain. “I find it is really helpful when I go for a run,” Brazier said. “I wrote most of The Thrive Diet while I was running. All of the ideas and the thoughts would seem to organize themselves, and when I got home, I would write them down.”
Bowen Island geriatric psychiatrist Stephen Kiraly, author of Your Healthy Brain: A Personal and Family Guide to Staying Healthy and Living Longer, writes that exercise gives birth to new brain cells. In addition, exercise causes brain cells to make greater connections with one another, slowing the decline of brain density with age.
Kiraly notes that the first physical effect of exercise is the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural opiates or “happy drops”. They reduce pain sensitivity.
“Other brain chemicals called monoamines are released rapidly and sustain their effect for about 12 hours,” Kiraly points out in his book. “Adrenaline, noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine are all whipped up and flood the brain giving it a natural boost of energy and euphoria. Don’t forget that these chemicals are what are contained in modern antidepressants but heavy exercise is much more potent in upping the brain concentration.”
Brazier got a glimpse into the connection between exercise and creativity when he met Dan Piraro, creator of the Bizarro syndicated comic strip. Brazier said he asked Piraro how he came up with a new comic every day. Piraro responded that when he is in a dry spell, he goes on a bike ride, usually sufficient to generate two weeks’ worth of ideas.
“One of the points I make in the book is I’m sure some people are naturally more creative than others,” Brazier said, “but there are certain little things we can do—all of us—to make the most out of our own creativity.”