Spoiler Alert: Yes, Exercise Makes You Smarter!
You’ve heard why you should exercise: help control weight; strengthen your immune system; control stress and reduce anxiety; you’ll live longer. But can exercise make you smarter? Can exercise improve cognitive function? Can it improve your memory; your ability to solve problems; your ability to learn?
The answer is YES: whether young or old, exercise provides a cognitive boost! It’s the perfect example of the Mind-Body Connection.
Exercise in children improves cognitive function and motor skill development. Children who exercise perform better on tests and have better grades.
A study of high school students found that those who exercised before class doubled their reading scores, and boosted their math scores by 20 points!
As we age, exercise improves memory and slows the aging process of the brain. Studies have found that elderly adults who exercise regularly have better memory, are better at going from one mental task to another, and can concentrate better than those who are sedentary.
In other words, those who exercise have better cognitive function – they’re smarter!
Why It Works
So what’s going on? What is it about regular exercise that makes your brain work better?
Scientists speculate that the daily boost in circulation is one factor. They also speculate that exercise causes the release of neuro-transmitters, such as endorphins, that improve cognition and memory. Endorphins are known to improve our ability to concentrate.
- increase circulation to brain
- increase oxygen delivery to brain
- release of neuro-transmitters
Even a Little Helps a Lot
A little goes a looong way: Even a twenty-minute walk makes a big difference in your brain activity:
And It Lasts
Dr. John Ratey (at Harvard Med), author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says that exercise for less than an hour gives your brain a boost that lasts for two to three hours. Dr. Ratey says that “Even ten minutes can change your brain.”
In the longer term, exercise has been found to delay the advance of Alzheimer’s.
Here is a great interview with Dr. Ratey on YouTube:
But Wait, There’s More
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise helps reduce excess weight, strengthens the immune system, minimizes stress and anxiety, and helps you live longer. If those aren’t reasons enough, perhaps making you smarter will help keep you on the exercise path.
Because the answer to the question, is YES!
Exercise CAN make you smarter!
Maybe not Einstein-smart, but smarter.
And we could all use some of that 🙂
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- Image Credit: That awesome (!!) photoshopped image of Dr. Albert Einstein as a chiseled young man was originally produced for an advertisement by General Motors in 2009, with the tagline, “Ideas are sexy, too.” They were sued by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (holders of the Einstein estate publicity rights), who considered the image to be disrespectful (I hope someone disrespects me to make me look like that when I’m 76!). Here is the story, and how it turned out: http://philosophyofscienceportal.blogspot.com/2012/10/einstein-and-general-motors.html
- http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/video/a-physical-education-in-naperville-ill/ This is the story of students at Naperville HS, where students who exercised before class boosted their learning.
- Keating, Castelli, Ayers (2013) Association of weekly strength exercise frequency and academic performance among students at a large university in the United States. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 27 (7) 1988-1993. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23096065
- Neurocognitive Kinesiology Laboratory of Dr. Charles Hillman, University of Illinois:http://kch.illinois.edu/Research/Labs/neurocognitive-kinesiology/
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by Dr. John Ratey – a great read! And please be sure to check out his website: http://www.johnratey.com/