Lose Weight and Get Smarter Simultaneously!
“I can only meditate when I’m walking. When I stop, my mind ceases to think; my mind only works with my legs.” -Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The human brain thrives on exercise and deteriorates without it. First and foremost the animal brain evolved for the purpose of driving movement (thinking came next – don’t believe me? Watch this video). Later along on the evolutionary ladder, early man survived by doing most of his thinking while on the move or hunt. Humans are geared for sharpened cognition while moving. In fact, our body rewards regular sustained activity with better health and stronger brain power. Want to perform optimally in a board meeting or on a test? Exercise for 20 minutes prior to the exam and you will do better. Numerous studies have provided evidence that physical activity improves brain plasticity and facilitates learning. Some research actually shows learning while exercising simultaneously improves memorization and overall cognition. “Rhythms in the brain that are associated with learning become stronger as the body moves faster”, UCLA neurophysicists report. So the next time you need to study for a test or put something to memory go for a run or bike ride. Load up your iPhone (or Sony Walkman) with audio books or informational podcasts and review them while you sweat.
Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist who has my old job (not) as Professor of Bioengineering wrote two best-selling books: “Brain Rules” & “Brain Rules for Baby”:
Science has shown exercise improves the brain in these ways:
Increases oxygen to the brain
Reduces brain bound free-radicals
Increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress
Improved neurotransmitter levels
Increased neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells)
Decreases stress levels
A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled “Effect of Physical Activity in Cognitive Function in Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease,” found that elderly individuals engaged in regular physical exercise for a 24-week period had an improvement of an astounding 1,800% on measures of memory, language ability, attention and other important cognitive functions compared to an age-matched group not involved in the exercise program!!!
As we all know or should know: Too much stress is a killer. The good news is exercise improves stress levels and one’s ability to deal with ‘hard’ situations. Stress brings on the hormone cortisol which in large amounts impairs your ability to learn and retain information (it also promotes fat storage). Even though exercise itself is a stress (albeit a good one) your body will become more resistant to it and increase its threshold for cortisol by consistently participating in a workout program. Exercise ameliorates stress by:
Daily exercise relaxes muscles: Being stressed causes the muscles in the body to become tense and stiff. Physical activity improves oxygen delivery to the muscles, removing tension and muscle soreness.
Exercise produces a feeling of happiness: Through the production of endorphins, exercise removes stress by creating a peaceful feeling of euphoria.
Exercise reduces feelings of frustration: Performing physical activity forces the brain to concentrate on your body and its surroundings, giving the mind a break from focusing solely on frustrations.
Exercise improves stress resiliency: People who exercise are more likely to have less of a stress reaction to adverse situations.
According to the American Heart Association, only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and 2% of high schools provide daily physical education programs or some equivalent. Science has shown for a fact that physical activity potentiates learning so why do we devote so little time to it in our schools? We also know as a fact that the human animal does not do well sitting for periods longer than three hours at a time (read about the dangers of sitting). Add junk food, TV, an overabundance of prescription medications to our sedentary lifestyle and viola: over 60% of Americans are overweight and we rank 17th in the world in education.
Many great thinkers of human history did their best work while exercising or walking like Rousseau, Kant, Aristotle, Darwin and others. Working out a problem while working out may achieve the perfect balance between body and mind.
1. Fitness Effects on the Brain of the Elderly 2. Medina, John. “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work and School”; Pear Press 2008. Buy Here 3. Nature: Exercise Effects on the Brain and Cognition 4. TED Talk: Brain and Movement 5. TEDx Talk: Exercise and the Brain