Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Your Workout Making You Smarter?

That could be one of my favorite Simpsons moments.  It's just so catchy.  I am so smart, S-M-R-T!!
Are you getting your S-M-R-T on?  Chances are, by hitting the gym, and challenging yourself, you are. 
The typical gym member has one goal and one goal only as to why they start on a fitness journey.  Its probably to look better.  It usually surrounds losing fat and building muscle.  Maybe there's a secondary goal of improving ones health, or if your my favorite type of client, improving the way you move.  A benefit of undertaking a new exercise program that many overlook is that exercise could in fact make you smarter. 


Well, studies have shown that exercise can create new brain cells which in turn would improve brain function and performance.  After a killer workout, there appears to an increased level of a certain brain protein that helps with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.  According to Dr. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008, Little, Brown), exercise signals the release of protein into the bloodstream which increases the production of brain chemicals that improve connections between existing neurons and even triggers the formation of new ones.  How is that helpful?  More neurons, increased thinking, and learning.  

The more complicated the movement or exercise, the more challenging it is, the more thinking involved.  We see people's brains working every session at AMP.  Give someone a ViPR and have them do a GI Joe Lunge/Lunge with upper cut, and watch them try to problem solve their movement pattern.  However the more they do it, the more they learn, and then it becomes second nature to them.  Or try crawling and coordinating moving opposite limbs.  You could sure as hell do it as a baby. In fact it was second nature, but along the way your body reprogrammed itself to walk and run.  Getting back to basics, like crawling, is always a learning experience in itself. Or should I say RE-learning. (BTW at AMP we re-learn movement patterns every day!)

So just another amazing benefit to working out.  

This can easily be applied to students in school.  In fact, it was applied in Naperville, near Chicago, in their high school.  The results were astounding.  Students struggling in math and reading were encouraged to go to gym first and by the end of the year, reading and math scores improved dramatically.  
So eliminating gym class is probably one of the worst things you can do for students not only from an obesity/health/fitness standpoint, but from a mental/learning point too.  So note to schools, more PE, more recess!!

Now if this can work for students, maybe it can work for adults or even the elderly suffering from dementia.  As we get older, it appears that our brains shrink a little.  Well why is that?  Aging kills off brain cells which results in the brain shrinking a little, which in turn leads to a decrease in brain function.  However there is a solution as we've seen so far in this post. EXERCISE!! Exercise is the common theme.    

I'll conclude this post by saying you should exercise.  Not only because it'll make you feel and look good, but because you may just be smarter because of it.  If anything, you'll be able to think and learn better, and who doesn't want that.  I'll leave you with a great quote from the previously mentioned Dr. John Ratey:

Exercise is Miracle Gro for the brain,”

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