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How Exercise Can Help Heal the Brain After a TBI How Exercise Can Help Heal the Brain After a TBI

Comments [7]

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So a long, long time ago, the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, came to me because she felt that her exercise--her running-- played a significant role in her recovery. And she said, "Okay, do some research." At that particular time, we were doing a large quality-of-life study of folks with brain injury. So we put in some questions about exercise: Do you exercise? If you do exercise, what do you do? How often and for how long--how many times a week? And we had a group of people without brain injury, and what we did is looked at the folks with brain injury who did and did not exercise and the folks without a brain injury who did and did not exercise, and we saw that the folks with brain inury who did exercise reported fewer cognitive symptoms and were less depressed. The folks without a brain injury weren't depressed, and they didn't report cognitive symptoms. So that was not new, because there was a lot of literature in terms of exercise being a valuable treatment in terms of depression, but it's the first time the link to improved cognitive function had been made. So we're now in the middle of doing a clinical trial where we're using 2 doses of exercise with folks with TBI. It's interesting because there's been 1 study--there's been some animal work in which they've shown that exercise promotes regrowth--neuro-regeneration in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that controls memory. And there's been 1 study with humans--a very small sample-- in which the folks in that study followed an exercise regimen, and they did pre- and post-functional MRIs on these folks, and they showed there was increased blood flow in the hippocampus. So now we have some evidence of regeneration in that area of the brain, in people without a brain injury. We're not doing the neuro-imaging; it's too expensive. But we are looking at the outcomes; we're looking at our mood, cognition, and fatigue.

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Research studies show that people with TBI who exercise show fewer symptoms of depression, fatigue, and cognitive problems.

Produced by Noel Gunther, Ashley Gilleland, Victoria Tilney McDonough, and Brian King.

Wayne Gordon, PhD Wayne Gordon, PhD, ABPP/Cn, is the Jack Nash Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine and associate director of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is a neuropsychologist and the director of the Mount Sinai Brain Injury Research Center.

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Comments [7]

I just want to thank the commentors. I am a year and 3 wks from my concussion. I was not able to get back to exercise as it created terrible and intense symptoms for me, into days after exercise day. I am almost afraid to do it, yet ready to try again. I will hit the gym early in am when less people are there and only do 30 mins of cardio machine. Plus gentle stretching. I am so scared i will feel terrible, but i need to be strong again. It gives me hope that others have had such success getting back to it, but at the same time i wonder why my post exercise symptoms were so incapacitating. It has been 3 months since i tried last....i would love nothing more than to be building muscle and feeling strong. Thanks for listening.

Dec 21st, 2016 3:25am

I was shot in the back of my head in my occipitol lobe in 2009 it left my left arm paralyzed and I walk with a cane now and exercise at my local Y.M.C.A. and walk very often for someone in my condition I I function normally everyday and eat a healthy diet,in fact, I am about to return to finish my 34 remaining cedits towards my bachelors degree.

Sep 5th, 2015 4:14pm

Agree with the previous comments. I hit my head in a slip and fall accident and have had severe symptoms. The symptoms clearly worsen when I don't exercise or if I have a high level of stress. For me exercise, stress management techniques and sleep are what makes me feel good.

Aug 10th, 2015 11:15pm

I'm 58 I had my TBI 4 years ago . I started running a year ago and I have not stopped. Its been the best medicine for all my issues. Please go out and do something that will oxygenate your brain. Run, dance, walk, hop, skip and jump, laugh, live and love.

Jul 3rd, 2015 10:43pm

I was hit in the back of my head with a wooden cane because a maniac thought I stole his phone about a year ago. Ever since this happend I became depressed take note I was 15 at the time I'm 16 right now. I've been jogging for about 2 weeks now and I feel great I've been a lot better and I am glad I encourage you to run and try your best just I am I doing

Jun 2nd, 2015 1:12pm

Hey David, just want to chime in a bit and mention that I suffered from an extreme TBI as a result of brain oxygen deprivation as a result of an accidental over dose 14 1/2 months ago.  Luckily I am pretty young (26 at time of injury, will be 28 in a few weeks...), and youth certainly helped and other factors of luck, but my cognitive abilities were (are, still but nothing compared) pretty badly effected, it was a terrible accident and I'm lucky to be alive.  Afterwards, I tried hard to play things off so to speak, not telling a soul how bad it was, but I could hardly remember someone's name I was just talking to.  I've always been proud of my intellect and man o man, was that a major blow.  Point is, I've always been an exerciser.  Started age 14 not just sports but also actively jogging just to jog.  Never stopped, been doing it for usually 30 min, ~ 3-4 miles, daily, sometimes more, rarely less and never less than 20 min, even on my worst rare day.  After the accident I was laid up in a hospital bed for 10 days but within 3 days of my release, despite that I was still feeling quite crappy, I insisted against other's judgment, to work out.  And I never let up, just as before.  So 10 days without (due to being in hospital...) but every day after since then (and before then), I've exercised... BUT, it was always for my anxiety/insomnia and because I just like it and it feels really good to me so its a no brainer and a part of my basic life.  What I didn't know is that it is also seemingly INSTRUMENTAL in recovery from brain injury.  In the early days out of the hospital, first month or so, I doubted whether I would even regain 70% of my pre injury cognitive abilities.  Now, a little over 400 days later, I'd say I'm around 97%.  There are some random times when my word recall will suck but those times are now very few and far between, and I'm back to feeling like I can work any job, do anything... 9 months ago, I was considerin5g and honestly thinking my future was disability.  Hell NO.  Sorry this was too long, my point is/was that the 30-45 minutes of daily exercise that I do I KNOW has played a huge, massive role in my recovery, and hard science has confirmed my inherent beliefs.  I'm seriously lucky that it was a pre ingrained hobby/habit!!  I post this for anyone for whom its not a natural habit, whose recently suffered a brain injury, or is having memory issues, etc.  It may seem a little counter intuitive, but PHYSICAL exercise is THE most important factor towards successful recovery.  Cardio exercise.  The "2 R's, I say -- running and reading ~.  The medication "vyvanse" has helped tremendously as well.  Stimulants like the aforementioned as well as adderall, dexedrine, etc might be controversial but are excellent help, still tho IMO, avoid most drugs.  Cannabis has actually been shown to have neuro protective effects.  Regarding supplements, please consider Rhodiola Rosea.  I take 680mg of an 8:1 extract 5 days a week.  Simply put, its just good for you, body and brain.  Take in the AM.  If you need to take something at night, don't take anti psychotics.  Do not.  You are much better off with light benzodiazepine use.  Don't get hooked on them, however.  But, IME they are much easier on you and short acting, they seem more "targeted" to gaba a, and a lot of these other meds like seroquel or whatever will ZAP your focus so stay away.  Drink a lot of water.  Do hot/cold therapy whether in a steam/sauna at a gym or home shower.  Also, forgot to mention, but anecdotally, I also practice and have for many years, an eating practice wherein I tend to eat nothing during the day and then a huge meal at night, and I also pound water all day long.  That diet is natural for me, also lucky ~ (Gods infinite grace or something like it :), but apparently such "controlled fasting" is also really good for cell regeneration and all the stuff we who want our brains healthy want.    Oh and I almost forgot, FISH OIL.  Take a big heaping tablespoon of HIGH QUALITY, refrigerated fish oil with your evening meal.  Ahh, I think thats it.  Bounce back, you can do it.  Our brains and our bodies are amazingly versatile, if you want it bad enough, these things will speed up your recovery immenseley. 

May 19th, 2014 2:03pm

There is a bit of an irony in that the same thing that was partly responsible for my TBI has become singularly the biggest contributor to my ongoing recovery. I was broadminded by a teenage driver while I was cycling. Roughly two months after my TBI, I was back on a bike again. It's been 3+ years of post TBI cycling. My daily regime is 25+ miles a day (approx 15 - 2.0 hours of daily cardio). This may seem extreme to some, but I am convinced that this commitment to exercise has played a huge role in a recovery that has dramatically exceeded what was expected. At a year out, a respected neuropsychologist  labeled me as "permanently disabled." I've cycled over 17,000 miles since that diagnosis. Yes, challenges abound. I will be recovering for the rest of my life. But I have been able to rebuild my life - a life worth living.  Thank you for sharing this!  ~David A. Grant 

Nov 29th, 2013 8:41pm


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