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Exercise and My Brain

Warning…this BLOG is very personal, so if you are here for physio advice, you will get advice but you will get it from a very different perspective this month.


It is March 2020. I am about to turn 40. I may or may not be having a midlife crisis but I am okay. Over the Christmas season, I started planning my birthday party (we should all celebrate milestones). In the process, I made my list of friends and then preceded to forget about 50% of their spouses’ names. This is where the crisis set in. What was happening to my cognitive function? Was this an age thing or was it due to higher stress levels than usual? Anyway, I value my brain and my ability to think clearly so I needed to sort this out.


Little did I know that this would become my Big Hairy Audacious Goal or BHAG (I wrote a guest Blog about having a BHAG for motivation on HG Physio’s website) that keeps me motivated and able to exercise almost daily since my midlife crisis in December. Whilst driving to Bethlehem (the one in the Free State), I started listening to a book on Audible called Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain by John J. Ratey MD. I have known for a long time how under prescribed exercise is for a number of medical conditions like depression, diabetes and hypertension. What I was about to learn on this trip was how pivotal exercise is in learning, cognitive function and development of new neurons. It is also one of the easiest and cheapest answers to treating anxiety, ADD, hormonal changes, stress, addiction and aging.

exercise brain balance


Armed with this new knowledge, I waited for my niece and nephews to arrive and they were quickly roped into my drive for better memory. It all started with a walk to the closest park and a 500m run. I got home afterwards and managed to remember 2 names. That was 26 December 2019. That was it, I have exercised 5-6 out of 7 days a week since. As a physiotherapist, I know that exercise needs to be manageable. I started and progressed my exercise slowly. If you can physically only manage a 5 minute walk, then do that. Some days I do an hour, other days I squeeze in a few rounds of 1-2 minute exercises several times per day. I take my energy levels into consideration and never overwhelm myself with high expectations. If I can do more, I do.

exercise brain walk kids


In the studies on learning and cognitive function, one of the things that stood out for me was that exercise needs to be enjoyable to the individual. I know myself, I detest gyms. I have a gym contract and I figured that if I’m putting money to it, I’ll be good at going. I have not used it in a year. What a waste of hard earned cash. Sound familiar? I also know for myself that I need options for quick wins, options to do with community, easy access options and being in nature.


We are so fortunate in Durban and have a variety of outdoor and fun options for getting the heart-rate up. Incorporating these into my routine has made it fun and social too. I’m sharing my suggestions so that you can also take advantage of what is out there.


Options of outdoor exercise in Durban

I have tried some of these myself in the last 2 months or know of friends that can vouch for it.

10-60 minute walk, walk/run

  • Around the block (quick win and maybe you will meet a neighbour)
  • To your closest coffee shop during a work break  (my favourite is Shoots and Leaves for a Macadamia Cappuccino)
  • On the Umhlanga promenade
  • On the Durban Beach Promenade
  • The beach (sand between the toes)
  • Umhlanga Nature Reserve (well patrolled from 7 am)
  • Virginia Forest (Riverside Trail Group Wednesday and Thursday morning from Virginia Checkers at 5:15 am)
  • Park Run (walk) at North Beach, Blue Lagoon or Umhlanga Saturdays at 8am
  • Beset run/walk, 5:30am Mondays at Bike and Bean

exercise brain nature

exercise brain umhlanga nature reserve

exercise brain beach

Stand Up Paddling

exercise brain sup


On the Durban Promenade

Maintain biking

exercise brain cycle

Outdoor Gyms

  • Durban Beachfront
  • Umhlanga Ridge (next door to the Fire Station)
  • La Lucia Mall
  • Morningside (off Windermere)
  • Glenwood

exercise brain outdoor gym

Carmen’s Quick wins (for rainy days or early starts)

MovNat Adaptive Practice sessions at home or combined with a walk/run.

Any combinations of air squats, pushups, birddogs, side-planks, hanging lat pull-downs or wall hand stands when I am short of time (what is your favourite quick win exercise?).

exercise brain hang


The result is I feel stronger, happier, calmer (most days) and my brain feels like it can handle more. I actually think I am getting younger. There are 2 added bonuses. After being plagued by illness after illness in the last 2 years, my immune seems to be stronger probably because my cortisol (stress hormone) levels are lower. As a physiotherapist with Hypermobility Joint Syndrome, I experience pain on a daily basis. I am also experiencing less pain, probably because my endorphin levels are up and I am conditioning my body to handle the load.


I hope my story has inspired you to go exercise.

Any other suggestions of quick win exercises that work for you? How about other forms of outdoor exercise in and around Durban that I haven’t mentioned? Please tell me in the comments, let’s get the information out so everyone can benefit.

4 thoughts on “Exercise and My Brain”

  1. Hi Carmen
    You’ll be a genius by the time you’re 41!
    Happy birthday for whenever…with lots to follow!

  2. Happy 40th birthday dear heart.
    May you be blessed with many more.
    Thanks for this useful information wish i heard about it 30 years ago 🙃

  3. Thank you Carmen for this excellent article which appeals to all ages. Among the many forms of suggested exercises there is at least one that can be done so matter your age!


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