Everyone is looking to get an edge in their personal and professional lives. And while most people know that exercise can make you feel good and help keep you sharp, few people realize how deep the benefits really go, especially for the brain.
Not only is exercise the most scientifically proven cognitive enhancer, the brain benefits of exercise can touch almost every aspect of your life. So if you take anything away from this article, it should be this:
Exercise is one of the most important ways to get the most out of your brain. Physically and mentally.
It’s a pillar of great brain health and an important theme you’ll see at The Brain Flux. If you ever needed another reason to start exercising, look no further. The benefits have been broken down into four major categories below. They also include links for more detailed information.
Hopefully, it inspires and serves as a resource for anyone that wants to know how great exercise can be for the mind.
Since there’s a lot of information here, I thought it was easier to search around and navigate by breaking it into four sections.
Many of these studies and the benefits listed below are interrelated. But that doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same.
For example, improving your memory can help you learn and improve academic performance. However, just because you have improved memory, doesn’t mean you’ll apply yourself in the classroom or be more motivated to study.
(Note to my readers: I will share this article, section by section, in my next four posts. There is lots of great information but I think it can be better digested in daily chunks!)
SECTION 1: Cognitive Benefits – Exercise can boost the base level brain functions which lay the foundations of our cognitive abilities.
SECTION 2: Psychological Benefits – Our moods and emotions can be affected through exercise, as well as how we think and behave.
SECTION 3: Neurobiological Benefits – The physical and chemical changes that occur in the brain.
SECTION 4: Lifestyle Benefits – Many other life activities and situations that are affected by exercise.
Cognitive Benefits of Exercise
These are the core brain abilities that people always wish they could enhance. You don’t have to wish anymore, it’s entirely possible with exercise!
Not that it’s easy. There’s no pill that replaces actual effort, so, for now, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.
These benefits are backed by study after study. You can think faster, concentrate longer, and remember more simply by exercising. And, generally speaking, people of any age can have these cognitive enhancing benefits. The only question is, how much are you willing to work for it?
1. Exercise Improves Your Executive Functions
Executive functions are your higher level thinking skills. This includes inhibitory control, task switching, attention, and goal management to name a few. These skills are important for problem-solving, planning, organizing, and behavior. It’s how you function as a normal person in society.
A review of exercise in multiple studies found positive effects for all ages in normal healthy participants. Overall, researchers found that exercise is a simple way for healthy people to optimize their higher order brain functions. However, the specific effects for younger populations still need to be clarified.
Even if you’re a little bit older, exercise can improve these important cognitive skills. One meta-analysis – which is a scientific review of multiple studies – reviewed the results of 18 different papers on the subject. All participants in the studies were considered healthy but led sedentary lifestyles. While several cognitive benefits were observed, the strongest benefits for this particular population group was for their executive functions.
2. Exercise Can Increase Your IQ
Most people will tell you that exercising is a smart thing to do. But that’s because it can literally make you smarter.
The topic of IQ is still pretty hotly debated among scientists. Some believe it’s genetic, others that it can be affected by environment. There still seems to be some clarification needed in research. What IQ actually is, what can affect it, and if anything by how much? For now, I’ll let the scientists duke it out.
One of the largest studies ever done tried to shine some light on the subject. Data from over 1 million Swedish men were used and the researchers found something interesting. There was a convincing link between cardiovascular health and performance on IQ tests. Taking it one step further, they also observed that young adults who improved their cardiovascular health between the ages of 15 to 18, also saw an increase in their IQ.
3. Increases Your Focus
In today’s world of flashing cell phones and beeping technology, we all need the skill to ignore distractions and concentrate on the task at hand. It appears that exercise can help us survive in an increasingly connected world. Good news when everyone and everything is trying to grab our attention.
One of the first studies demonstrating this was published in 2004. The study used two different experiments. The first compared physically fit people to those who weren’t. The second study looked at people who were aerobically trained over several months and compared them to others that received no training. The results found benefits in both studies. Physically fit people have increased control over their ability to focus attention as measured by a challenging cognitive task. The people who were trained over several months also saw these benefits.
That’s great news for regular exercisers, but even better news if you’re thinking about becoming a bit more fit.
4. Increases Your Cognitive Flexibility
Focus isn’t the only skill needed for a busy life. Our jobs demand us to take on several responsibilities. School studies are stressful and rigorous. And our personal lives can pull us in 100 directions. We are required to multitask, switching thinking modes, and keep track of several things at once.
Research in 2009 looked at the effects of three different levels of exercise in healthy adults. They wanted to measure if the frequency of aerobic exercise had an effect on a person’s cognitive abilities. At the end of ten weeks, a battery of cognitive tests was given to the participants. Here’s what they found. They saw that the amount of aerobic exercise correlated with increases in mental speed, attention, and cognitive flexibility. Being the thorough scientists, though, they adjusted for variables like gender and education level. The one mental ability that still held statistical significance was that of cognitive flexibility.
5. Gives You More Willpower
Willpower is another life skill closely related to your brain’s executive function. Also, willpower is a key ingredient in a successful life. We use it to avoid temptations, stay on track for personal and professional goals, and adhere to healthy habits.
Exercise is one path that can increase your willpower.
A meta-analysis published in 2013 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at several groups of people. Children, adolescents, and adults up to the age of 35. They found that short bouts of exercise had a significant effect across all age groups in areas of executive function, along with inhibition and interference control – which is better known as willpower.
The subject of willpower gets a decent amount of coverage in the media. But rarely is exercise mentioned as a path to increasing self-control.
6. Helps You Control Your Emotions
Being able to control your emotions might not seem like it’s a cognitive skill. Yes, emotions are a part of our psychological makeup. But the actual ability to control our emotions is a skill of cognitive control. Whenever you reign in an outburst of anger or continue your day despite feelings of sadness, you are exercising emotional regulation.
Scientists wanted to track changes in self-regulation. So they conducted a 2-month long study where participants were exposed to a program of regular physical exercise. The researchers noted a number of positive changes in behavioral patterns. Among these was a decrease in emotional stress and an increase in emotional control.
If you have a tendency to blow up at people or lose your calm, exercise can help you keep centered. Life is going to throw you a curveball or two, and a calm mind can help you navigate turbulent waters.
7. Sharpens Your Short Term Memory
Short-term memory is sometimes called working memory. There are different definitions used in the scientific community, but for general purposes let’s agree they are very similar. Working memory is the information in your head that’s currently being processed. It’s involved in comprehension, interpretation, and manipulation of data.
It’s also had some mixed results in exercise studies. The intensity of workouts and the duration of exercise seem to affect working memory in different ways. However, one study in 2014 had participants complete 30-minute workouts of moderate intensity. At this level of difficulty, researchers found a significant increase in working memory following completion. However, the increased memory capacity was only a short-term effect and exact duration not measured. Any long-term benefits of exercise on short-term memory still need to be determined.
8. Exercise Helps Your Long-Term Memory
There is a strong link between regular exercisers and improved memory. One such review in 2010 found positive and significant improvements among participants who exercised.
One study found that 35 minutes of interval exercise on a bike strengthened long-term memory. The timing of the exercise was important, though. Better memory was found for subjects who exercised four hours after learning. No benefit was seen for those exercising immediately after learning.
Another study split participants up into three groups. Each group was told to recall as much information as possible from two paragraphs. The first group received the information after exercise, the second before exercise, and the last completed no exercise. They found that the group that was exposed to exercise before being given the information performed significantly better at recall than the other two groups.
The effects of resistance exercise on memory was also studied. Subjects were shown photos with different emotional values (neutral, positive, or negative) and then proceeded to exercise using a leg extension machine. After 48 hours, they were asked to recall the photos again. The results found that the group which performed the resistance exercise performed better at recalling, particularly the pictures that were emotionally charged.
9. Makes You Think Faster
Everyone wishes they could arrive at solutions faster. Who wouldn’t want to be faster at solving problems and remembering things?
White matter is responsible for the transmission of data in and around your brain. Having more white matter in the brain means that your connections are better insulated and more efficient at relaying information in and around your brain. So does exercise help with this too?
It turns out that it does. A study published in 2013 found that older adults with a history of aerobic exercise were observed to have better white matter integrity than their sedentary peers. And it’s not just older adults who benefit. It’s also children. A research article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reported that aerobic fitness levels were linked with stronger white matter integrity.
Finally, in another meta-analysis, researchers found 24 studies that looked at processing speed and exercise. They found that exercise gave people a modest improvement in their cognitive speed. And verifying the results mentioned above, it did this across all ages.
Stayed Tuned for Section 2 tomorrow!
This article was written by Eric and is shared from the following website: http://thebrainflux.com/brain-benefits-of-exercise/