7 ways exercise makes you mentally smarter

People who exercise have more oxygen flowing through their brains’


March 21, 2015
PHOTO: AFP

If you think muscles and strength are just for or gym buffs and fitness freaks, think again. Did you know that as little as 15 minutes of exercise a day can enhance your intellect? As compiled by sunwarrior.com, Forbes, and Fitness magazine, here are reasons to sport those sneakers and score that promotion.

1. Boosts decision-making skills

The brain needs oxygen to function throughout the day, and people who exercise have more oxygen flowing through their brains’ anterior frontal regions — the region involved with both decision making and memory retention. A review published in the CDC’s journal Prevention of Chronic Disease indicated that aerobic activity “is positively associated with cognition, academic achievement, behaviour and psychosocial functioning outcomes.” Research suggests that people who exercise outperform their peers on difficult cognitive tasks and make more coherent decisions.

Enhances your driving skills

Scientists have found that exercise increases production of favourable hormones like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), for example. BDNF boosts communication between brain cells and stimulates the growth of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for forming and organising tasks. According to the Institute of Sport Science at the University of Hildesheim, exercise improves your ability to perform mental rotations better, making you better at driving through congested traffic, reading maps, finding new routes to get to your destination and making better turns.

3. Sharpens focus

Be it strength training, yoga or a set of push ups — they all require a lot of focus. You have to be watchful of your form while ignoring the foul smelling gym rat next to you—  and that’s what shapes you to be more purposeful. The Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that the more you perform focused strength workouts, the more you’re able to avoid distractions outside the gym. “Working out allows one to focus on what to do while blocking out distractions and in addition, provides the confidence to take on new challenges,” says LeeAnn Dillon, a fitness competitor and personal trainer.

4. Helps you stick with your plans

When you hit the local park for a long run, you’re not just improving your body’s ability to sustain long, demanding tasks at work but also training your mind, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology. After all, when you’re jogging or biking for an hour or more, you’re not so much fighting physical fatigue as you’re fighting your mind saying, “Hey, let’s just stick with this run a little while longer.” The ability to stick to your decision to keep going is critical to multitasking at the workplace and sticking with long-term plans and goals, according to researchers.

5. Increases productivity

Exercise amplifies work performance, improves time management, and aids in prioritisation. Workers who exercise mid-workday get more accomplished throughout the day than those who sit and work without breaks. When one’s productive and efficient, it boosts motivation to succeed further. After exercising in the middle of the work day, workers are more likely to be kinder to their co-workers, increase their work performance and improve their administration skills as well. All these amount to a more productive day—  all from a few minutes of exercise.

6. Increases energy

It’s a direct correlation — the more you move, the more energised you will feel. Regular physical activity improves muscle strength and boosts endurance, thus giving you the energy and capacity to think clearer and come up with new ideas more logically. A good 15 minutes of moving around, even just around your lounge or going up and down the stairs, makes your body produce more energy on a cellular level and enhances your mind skills.

7. Age related cognitive decline

According to the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, your brain remembers more when your body is active. Exercise, in fact slows and may even reverse many of the symptoms of cognitive impairment, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It helps the body remove plaque and debris from the brain, refreshes cells and encourages the production of new cells to boost memory and learning in any brain, no matter the age. You don’t have to join a gym to reap these benefits; a stroll in your lawn while you’re on the phone is enough to boost your intellect.

By: Umnia Shahid

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2015.

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