Can physical exercise help ABI survivors?


After sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2011 I was blessed to be referred to a wonderful cccupational therapist who helped me to firstly understand what had happened to me, secondly, helped me to develop strategies to deal with my deficits, and finally helped me to accept my new normal.


We focused on three areas during my therapy: cognitive, emotional, and physical. Recently I read a scientific article published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences which outlines the extensive neuroscience literature that supports the positive effects of physical activity for improved cognitive performance and brain health.

Experiments with animals have shown that increased physical exercise leads several benefits to the brain, including:

yoga class at rehab centre

These findings have been observed across the lifespan and in a multitude of species, including rodents, dogs, and monkeys. The findings in animal models provided the basis for human studies of physical activity, fitness, and exercise and its impact on brain function. In a
meta-analysis (a quantitative statistical analysis of several separate but similar experiments or studies in order to test the pooled data for statistical significance) of eighteen human randomized controlled trials published in 2013 by Colcombe and Kramer, a moderate effect size between exercise and cognition was reported.

Specifically, the meta-analysis revealed a clear and significant positive effect of aerobic exercise training on cognitive function. As discussed in an earlier post, TBI often leads to deficits in cognition – attention, memory, thought, behaviour and emotion.

Furthermore, exercise training had both general and selective effects on cognitive function. Although exercise effects were observed across a variety of cognitive tasks, the effects were largest for tasks that engage the central executive network, including planning, problem solving, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. Lastly, the meta-analysis revealed that aerobic exercise training combined with strength and flexibility training had a greater positive effect on cognition compared to exercise training programs that included only aerobic components.

More recently, human studies have begun to include measures of brain function and structure along with behavioural measures of cognition. These studies have reported that relatively brief fitness programs result in increased brain volume in the hippocampus, benefits in the striatum, and increases in the integrity of white matter tracts. Additionally, these fitness programs enhance patterns of brain activation, including measures of functional connectivity of frontal and parietal brain regions, suggesting more efficient activity within the central executive network.

While the majority of experiments have focused on older adults, more recent studies have reported similar cognitive and brain benefits of exercise and physical activity in children, and young adults. Collectively, these studies have demonstrated that physical activity and aerobic fitness benefit brain function and cognitive performance across a variety of aspects of cognitive control, including attention and inhibition, working memory, mental flexibility, and action monitoring/error detection, as well as hippocampaldependent memory.

Despite the global benefits of physical activity and the potential to improve cognitive performance and brain health, remarkably little research has evaluated the effects of physical activity on cognition following TBI.

Consistent with the literature in healthy adults, evidence indicates that physical activity in a four-week aerobic fitness intervention produced improvement in executive functions following TBI.

The physical fitness interventions for TBI can be personalized for the patient, selecting from a variety of fitness activities (e.g., aerobic, strength, and flexibility training) that accommodate the patient’s abilities and functional goals.

Mine include hiking, biking, yoga, swimming, snowshoeing, and strength training. Activities that I had always enjoyed and continue to enjoy which benefit both my body and my brain!

Since her TBI in 2011, Sophia has educated herself about TBI. She is interested in making research into TBI accessible to other survivors.

This Valentine’s Day – fall in love with YOURSELF


After you’ve gone through a life changing event such as a brain injury, the person looking back at you in the mirror can be a stranger. The reflection may still look like you, but the mannerisms, the thinking and the constant feeling of ‘there’s something missing’ can be overwhelming. This disconnect can affect not only the relationship you have with yourself – how you take care of yourself, set boundaries and your self-confidence – but also the relationships you have with others.

To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”- Robert Morely

Don't forget to fall in love with yourself - Carrie Bradshaw
One of the hardest challenges I faced during my recovery was learning to love myself, after the accident. As I wrote in Change Your Shoes; Change Your Life  for the Soulful Relationships – Adventures in Manifesting series:

As weeks turned to months and months turned to years, the pain and torment at the loss of me pre-accident did not lessen. At times, it seemed even more painful than the physical pain I dealt with every day. Everyone tried to assure me things would get better, but each time I looked in the mirror I saw a stranger in the reflection that looked back at me.”

BIST - Love Yourself FirstI’m not going to sugar coat things. Friends, learning to love yourself can be difficult, especially after a traumatic, life changing experience. Self-love is about total acceptance. It’s about deeply caring for yourself and your happiness. It’s about loving yourself at this very moment and every moment, unconditionally. With small steps you will move forward and start loving that fabulous person looking back at you in the mirror!

Here are 3 small steps to get you started:

Change Your Thoughts – Our thoughts are important, they create our reality. Start focusing on things that you can do, things that you want to happen in your life. The more positive energy you put out there the more positive things will start to materialize. When the doctors told me I would never wear high heels again, I kept telling myself I will wear heels. I visualized myself wearing heels and now,  over time, I am wearing heels. Maybe not for the length of time I once used to, but I am wearing heels!!!

think positive and positive things will happenStart a regular practice – meditation, yoga and gratitude journaling are three tools that I use. Not only do they provide “me time”, but these practices allow you to connect more deeply with yourself. The more you are able to connect with yourself the more self-healing continues to happen.

Treat yourself – take yourself out for a nice dinner, a day/afternoon at the spa, an afternoon cup of tea or do something that you really enjoy. The important thing is making time in your day to do something special for yourself and to focus on not feeling remotely guilty about putting your iPhone on silent and spending time on YOU.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, whether you have a sweetheart to share it with or are spending it solo, do something for yourself that encourages you to get to know yourself better, to take care of yourself and to fall in love with yourself again. After all, your happiness starts with the best LOVE AFFAIR you will have, the one with yourself.
self love jar
Make a self-love jar  
A self-love jar is a great project you can make for yourself to remind you of how wonderful you are, especially on days when you’re feeling  down. Fill it with positive self-love affirmations, positive things that people have said about you, things that you like about yourself or self-love quotes you have come across. What is important is that the words are positive, motivational and inspirational.

You will need

  • 5 recipe card size pieces of coloured paper
  • paper cutter (or scissors)
  • jar with lid
  • ribbon or decorative Elastic Bands
  • pen or marker

How to Make Self-Love Jar

How to make it

  • using paper cutter (or scissors) slice each recipe card into 5 strips (about ½” in thick)
  • write a positive message (quote, affirmation, something about you)
  • fold pieces of paper (you will have 25 pieces) with writing on the inside and place in jar
  • place either ribbon or decorative elastic band around jar and replace lid


Various Self-Love Jars

How to use it 

When you are feeling down pull out a piece of paper and read the message. It will remind you of something that is positive and/or amazing about you!!!  Place message back in jar for another time.


Celia Missios
Celia Missios

Celia Missios is a brain injury survivor who has embraced her new found strengths and created a life that fits who she is today. She shares her journey in hopes that it will help others who are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress and facing transition in their life successfully move away from fear, pain, and deflated attitude about life – step into the life they want. Celia is the founder of the blog High Heeled Life – inspiration for living a luxurious and balanced life; featured author in Adventures in Manifesting – Soulful Relationships; a Peer Mentor with BIST; a regular speaker for Canadian Blood Services – Speakers Bureau. To learn more about Celia and be inspired visit or