Exercise is great for you.
Yes, I know that I’ve covered that topic a few times. There’s tons of evidence of its benefits for our bodies. What about our brains, though? Are there any mental benefits to pushing your physical limits in the gym? Can exercise, as mentioned in the title, actually make us smarter?
The answer may surprise you.
The verdict is in: getting fit, especially aerobically, can boost your smarts.
A 2009 published study of 1.2 million Swedish teens entering military service gives the strongest evidence. Those subjects who made the biggest aerobic gains from ages 15-18 outperformed their less-active counterparts on cognitive tests.
The benefit comes from whole-body factors like increased blood flow. The fast pace of cardio workouts carries more blood to your brain, bringing growth factors along the way like increased oxygen and number of small blood vessels.
The evidence also demonstrates that these boosts moved beyond simple genetic luck, according to researcher Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D.:
“Since 268,496 of the subjects were brothers, the researchers were also able to determine that the links between aerobic fitness and intelligence were primarily due to environmental factors like exercise, rather than genetic factors” (Source, p248).
Run That Frown Upside Down
In addition to making you smarter, pushing yourself in aerobic activity also has tremendous effects on mood.
When I started on my health journey back in 2011 (my origin story), I struggled mightily with depression. I began walking to help lose weight, since that’s the only exercise I could do in my obese state. On top of burning calories, my nightly walks also lowered cortisol levels (stress hormones) and increased testosterone (dominance hormone).
These walks paid off. By lowering my stress level and boosting feelings of control, walking helped to lift me out of despair and into optimism. The mental clarity that came along allowed me to look beyond my circumstances and create a new life for myself.
Work Harder, Get Smarter
Want to boost your brain gains even more? Push your body even harder.
A 2009 Taiwanese study showed that, when forced to run on a treadmill, mice made greater cognitive gains than their more leisurely counterparts. We humans can achieve the same mental boost by adding sprints to our cardio workouts, pushing the cardiovascular system in spikes of effort.
While I usually talk more about strength training, it’s important to add aerobic exercise into your regimen. Cardio-based exercises will boost your mental capacity, while lifting weights build a stronger, more capable body. For best results, pair the two approaches in the proper measures to build the best “you” there can be. Contact me directly if you need help devising a plan.