Tuesday, January 23, 2018
The season for learning is upon us as schools reopen everywhere. Boost your brain, without any pencils. Exercise makes you smarter. Here's how to thrive ...

Get Smarter with Exercise

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By Michelle Sutton-Kerchner

The season for learning is upon us as schools reopen everywhere. Boost your brain, without any pencils. Exercise makes you smarter. Here’s how to thrive …

The world may be your classroom. But the Exercise Floor can help you make sense of it. Multiple studies have proven the scientific connection between physical fitness and smarts. One of the latest proves 30 minutes of exercise for adults and 20 minutes for children immediately increases cognitive function by 5 to 10 percent. Brain processing speed increases by an average of 16 milliseconds. Faster, smarter, better!

A compilation of studies were examined and shared in the journal Educational Psychology Review (June 2008). The article examined the effects of exercise on intelligence, cognition, and academic achievement in children. It also included studies performed on animals, which proved a connection between physical activity and neurological development.

Researchers concluded exercise may be “a simple, yet important, method of enhancing those aspects of children’s mental functioning central to cognitive development.” Enroll them in FitKids today! And, develop a new respect for physical education classes.

The Long and Short of It

treadmills, picThe affect is both instantaneous and long-term. After activity, studies show an increase in attention span and achievement on test results. Participants processed information better and quicker. One study’s method was particularly interesting. Participants wore a futuristic skull cap to monitor brain activity before and after treadmill time.

Computerized cognitive tests showed amazing post-exercise results. Thirty minutes of movement resulted in being “ten percent brainier,” evidenced by test scores and increased brain activity as monitored via the skull cap. This beyond-the-bicep benefit remains effective for about three hours after a workout.

Studies show long-term effects can be seen by a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in physically active populations. Credit is given to exercise’s ability to increase the size of the brain’s frontal lobe. The benefits to the frontal lobe directly combat the age-related decline often accelerated in that area. Physical fitness also helps this powerful organ form connections.

Course of Action

The exercise required to reap rewards does not have to be of marathon levels. Activity such as that provided by a moderate treadmill session does the job. Studies have been performed using various exercise methods. Aerobic workouts seem to deliver the most conclusive results.

kids workout, picOne study used MRIs to prove aerobic exercise increases gray and white matter in the brains of older adults. (Perhaps we should rethink teaching old dogs new tricks.) The busy brain was actually captured on the films. Grade-schoolers who were aerobically fit performed better on cognitive tests.

An additional study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (January 2008) examined the relationship between aerobic fitness in adolescents and their performance on the Stroop Test, a psychological test that involves naming. Teens with higher levels of fitness performed better on the test than those who were not as fit.

Although weightlifting definitely bulks up muscle, its effect on brain power was negligible. Yoga, rooted in the mind-body connection, helps increase intelligence through proper breathing techniques. In stressful situations, shallow, short breaths decrease oxygen to the brain. This weakens memory skills, which you do not want jeopardized while taking an exam. Yoga is now being investigated as a memory improver.

Nurture Versus Nature

Many findings are associated with the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls functions the brain must execute. They concentrate on how fast and well the brain processes information. However, IQ and learned intelligence also has been higher in those who are physically fit.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a direct correlation between IQ and one’s level of fitness. A database containing information on 1.2 million young Swedish men enlisted in the military was used to assess connections between fitness and intelligence. An undeniable link between physical fitness and IQ was discovered: the higher the former, the higher the latter. Test areas that focused on logical thinking and verbal comprehension were particularly strong.

The study also determined a high level of physical fitness at 18 years old increases the chance of achieving above-average educational and professional goals throughout life.

Surprisingly, intelligence always has been considered an inherited trait. Now, research has proven outside factors, such as physical activity, can increase IQ. Findings showed a modest but “statistically significant increase,” with those who exercise the most having the greatest increase. A workout that involves the body’s large muscle groups increases neuron production, the cells that process and transmit information. This increase helps the brain function, including when learning new material.

It’s Ancient Greek

Ancient Greek boxer.
Ancient Greek boxer.

The philosophy of a strong mind-strong body connection is not new. Consider ancient Greece, where physical strength was as significant as learning itself. (Hence, the Greek Olympic origin.) Modern technology simply helps scientifically prove the connection.

Today, we can witness the human brain growing new nerve cells by putting study participants on a three-month aerobic-workout regimen. Study of the brain also can show older nerve cells forming dense, interconnected webs as a result of vigorous exercise. This makes the brain run faster and more efficiently. With a growing body of knowledge and findings, a strong, active body is proven to create a strong, active mind.

Advances in biochemistry and brain-scanning tools allow researchers to witness the complex activity that makes this connection. The process starts in the muscles. Flexing muscles releases chemicals, including proteins that cross the blood-brain barrier. In the brain, these proteins trigger the production of several chemicals, including one (called BDNF) that fuels most activities involved in higher thought. The more BDNF released, the greater the capacity for knowledge. The next time you “feel the burn,” know you’re building the brain too!

No doubt Einstein had an excellent BMI.


“Does Aerobic Exercise Increase IQ?” by Lila Roe at www.livestrong.com.

“Does Exercise Affect Intelligence?” by Michael Brent at www.livestrong.com.

National Institutes of Health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Stronger, Faster, Smarter,” by Mary Carmichael at www.newsweekmagazine.com.

“Study: Exercise Can Make You Smarter,” by Claire Shipman, Sheila Evans, and Suzan Clarke at www.abcnews.com.

“Up Your Intelligence by Choosing Your Exercise Wisely,” by Steve Knopper at www.wired.com.

Image Credits

Ancient Greek boxer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/telemax/3471636312/

Workout kids: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fidenaut/5644571391/

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