How Exercise Makes You Smarter
Getting fit isn’t just about bigger biceps, it also helps build brain cells. Here are five reasons why exercise makes you smarter, sharper and more productive.
CREATES CLEVER IDEAS
If you’re hitting a roadblock on a work project or something in your personal life, pounding the pavement for a walk or jog is a great way to bounce ideas, get feedback and open up your thinking to innovative solutions. Research shows, a brisk walk helps with the free of flow of novel ideas and ‘out of the box’ thinking. How? Regular movement improves the function of your hippocampus, which is involved in memory and thinking creatively.
Regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping) like cross training, jogging and cycling can boost the number of mitochondria in each and every cell. These are considered the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell because they help transform the food you eat into energy – so the more the better.
As your heart begins to beat faster, the increased flow of blood to the brain increases alertness while simultaneously fighting fatigue by stimulating your central nervous system. And you don’t need to slog it out for hours at the gym either. As little as a 30-minute HIIT class or a brisk walk is effective at reducing fatigue, making you feel more energised – a much better alternative to coffee and energy drinks.
If you want to avoid brain fog in the afternoon try adding a midday walk or gym session to your day to boost your brainpower. Research shows regular aerobic exercise is associated with an increase in brain volume of the prefrontal and medial temporal cortex; specific areas linked to thinking and memory.
While brain scans show this direct benefit, being physically active also keeps you focused by improving your mood, sleep patterns and reducing stress. Put simply, exercise wires your brain for better thinking, and improves your overall health so you feel rested, resilient and ready to tackle the task at hand.
PROTECTS BRAIN CELLS
Long-term adherence to exercise can protect your brain from degenerative changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease. This is because exercise increases brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for cognition and the ability to recall.
Activities that combine movement with coordination or thinking, like rock climbing or dancing, are especially beneficial. Any opportunity you find to move more, rather than prolonged hours of sitting is just as effective and easily achievable.
A 20-minute sweat sesh can be all you need to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. These ‘feel good’ chemical messengers not only improve your mood, but also boost motivation so you take action towards your personal and professional goals.
If you truly want to harness the power of these hormones, exercise first thing in the morning (procrastination is associated with lower levels of dopamine) and try exercising outdoors as the suns UV rays promote serotonin production.