Rehabilitating Strength and The Benefits of Exercise for The Brain: The Push and The Pull
This video was taken on December 2nd 2011. The goal in this video was to do push-ups from my knees because I did not have the strength to do them normally.
I was incredibly weak. Every morning I woke up in pain. It was a pain unlike any I had ever experienced. My legs were numb yet ached… My left especially. My left leg sort of tingled and was sore, while my right leg was just sore. I felt like I was a hundred years old. When I rose to my feet, I had to kind of push myself off of the bed to my feet but towards the wall, because I knew that I would lose my balance immediately when I was upright and I would need a support like the wall. My legs would wobble uncontrollably for the first few minutes, but the shaking usually would subside after a few hours. My brain and body needed to figure out how to work together every morning, and never seemed to get it right.
I had participated in Physical Therapy here in Texas for about a month where my homework included doing planks from my knees to strengthen my core enough to try doing a push up. I had been attempting to do planks from my knees and I was able to do a plank from my toes for a little bit by now. I thought that I was ready to try doing a push-up… That attempt failed, so I was to do push-ups from my knees until I was stronger. I hadn’t really noticed it at the time, but after doing any upper body work, my brain and body seemed to communicate better, I felt like I was in more control of my limbs, and the pain would subside. Research backs this by showing that exercise leads to the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that alleviate pain, both physical and mental.
I had shearing in the corpus collossum. Shearing is serious… Shearing is the tearing of the axons and stretching of the dendrites that connect the neurons. Neurons are the cells that communicate with each other within your brain. Axons are part of a neuron and are like pathways that allow nuerotransmitters to travel along the axon to the dendrite, or receptor, of another neuron. One axon from one neuron transmits to another neuron and you are able to think, talk, walk, dribble a ball, or do anything that you do. In a shearing accident, the forces from the accident can tear the axons and stretch the dendrites and they swell up. Then a lot of chemicals are released in the brain over the next 48-72 hours which can cause astrocytes (the most abundant cell of the human brain) to shrink, causing parts of the brain to atrophy (not work).
It’s complex, but here’s a few videos if you’re interested:
(My Diffuse Axonal Injury was found on an MRI, so it must have been serious enough to tear a blood vessel and cause a detectable hemorrhage)
My understanding of the corpus collossum is that it acts as the switchboard between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. So it doesn’t store any information and is more like a series of pathways or roads on a map. The left and right hemispheres of the brain DO store info. While I had a bruised left frontal cortex and a subdural Hematoma, these forces weren’t severe enough to cause axonal damage. I also have damage to my cerebellum, which coordinates motor control, from a hypoxic stroke. The part of my cerebellum that was damaged controls the left side of my body, but in less than a year I had built new pathways in my brain to walk, talk, and eat again. I have thought of a map analogy for my brain like this: States of the continental US could act as segments of the brain, and cities could act as stored information. If all the roads disappeared all of the sudden… And the map was thrown away (or my corpus collossum had been sheared), getting from New York to Los Angeles would be extremely difficult. You would know that you had to head West. So you’d start moving West (or you knew what your goal was). Let’s say you figure it out and end up in Los Angeles (or you do the activity you wanted). Now you would need to make this trip hundreds or thousands of times, because when you take the same path many times, the ground gets trampled, a road begins to form, and soon a map is drawn with the road in your brain. So alternate roads or pathways CAN be made, it just takes a lot of work.
Exercise is one of the few ways scientists have found to generate new neurons:
Moving the body demands a lot from the brain… This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled. What’s more, the finely honed energy balance that occurs in the brain appears to have implications not only for how well the brain functions during exercise, but also for how well our thinking and memory work the rest of the time.
I would exercise my brain and body daily trying to regain some of my abilities. I got a SAT and ACT test prep program on my phone to test and improve my cognitive abilities, I would do balancing exercises in the pool, I would do yoga a few times a week, and I would go on walks everyday even though I walked extremely slow. My brain would get better eventually I hoped… It had so far, and there’s no way to go but up unless I let things deteriorate.