Sunday, January 21, 2018

Strengthen Your Brain

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by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner

Along with building muscle, a workout also increases your smarts. Whether heading back to the classroom or meeting in the board room, here’s how a sweat session helps …

From academics to staff workshops, bring a fit brain for best results.
From academics to staff workshops, bring a fit brain for best results.

Studies continue to show the connection between physical and mental health, including the perks a fit body has on the mind. Beyond-the-bicep benefits include everything from improved mood to better cognitive functioning. Here is some fitness motivation as we kick off the season for academics.

Flex for Smarts

There are many theories on how exercise helps brain functioning. A recent one finds a strong link between the muscle transformation accomplished during a workout and the brain’s response. Muscles gain some of the biggest benefits from exercise. During this process, they release substances thought to be related to brain health, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Through further studies, NIH researchers credited cathepsin B as one of the responsible substances. Cathepsin B is a protein that helps sore muscles recover after a workout by eliminating cellular debris. The escalated levels occurring during exercise now are associated with improved thinking and memory, as well.

What goes on here, affects the brain. Take a holistic approach to smarts.
What goes on here, affects the brain. Take a holistic approach to smarts.

Participants in this particular study were runners, so it focused on long-term endurance exercise. However, other studies show strong connections between a variety of exercises and cognitive performance. If you are not a runner, do not despair.

Moderate walking and weightlifting routines have been shown to improve memory and language skills, including in those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. As little as two 90-minute weekly sessions of aerobics, strengthening, and balance training, for one year, proved beneficial. And, a simple walk can immediately improve thought processes, especially those related to creativity.

One study proved 30 minutes of exercise for adults and 20 minutes for children immediately increased cognitive function by 5 to 10 percent. Brain processing speed increased by an average of 16 milliseconds.

Long- & Longer-Term Gains

Computerized cognitive tests showed only thirty minutes of movement resulted in a 10 percent boost of brainpower. This was reflected in test scores and increased brain activity reported via a brain-monitoring skull cap. The benefit remains effective for about three hours after a workout. Important meeting? Killer test? Consider a quick trip to the Fitness Floor to improve your results and reduce anxiety.

Those who are physically active gain the long-term benefit of reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Exercise has the 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 the brain form connections.

Brilliance at work.
Brilliance at work.

Contrary to historic belief, brain cell growth, called neurogenesis, is indeed possible later in life. Exercise can act as a catalyst for neurogenesis. The extra neurons created during this process saturate areas of the brain related to thinking and recollection. This can contribute to a sharp mind well into one’s senior years.

Physical activity has been proven to increase and protect brainpower. Research continues to reveal the science behind how and why. Regardless, the connection exists. It’s just waiting to be strengthened during our next workout. Ready to get smarter, or simply remember a name that goes with a familiar face? Don’t just hit the books. Hit the treadmill, too!


“Can Exercise Really Make You Smarter?” by Kendra Cherry at

“Can Running Make You Smarter?” by Gretchen Reynolds at

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

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