Archive for September, 2009

Exercise Can Make You Smarter

September 25, 2009

Just a warning: this is not going to be as interesting or fun as our post a couple of months ago about how chocolate can make you smarter! OK. You’ve been warned.

The New York Times Phys Ed feature last weekend had an article about the types of exercise that can make you smarter (as measured by your ability to perform complex cognitive tasks).

In gist of current research seems to be that the harder you exercise, the more you can impact your cognitive abilities. And aerobic exercise beats other types when it comes to overall effect. To whit:

  • One study looked at two groups of seniors, one of whom was given daily stretching exercises to perform, another which performed brisk daily walks. Only the brisk walkers improved on tests of cognition (though the other group apparently became quite limber).
  • Another study looked at three groups of college students who sat still, lifted weights, and ran on a treadmill. Those who ran on the treadmill were noticeably quicker and more accurate in a memory task after exercise. And interestingly enough, those improvements remained even after cooling down post-exercise.

One of the more interesting studies mentioned in the article looked at two groups of mice, one of whom ran in exercise wheels (which mice apparently enjoy), and one of whom ran on a treadmill (pushed harder at a pace and duration set by the researchers). Both groups of mice improved their performance in a water maze task, but only those who ran on the treadmill also improved their performance on an avoidance task.

So what exercise can make you smarter? Aerobic, and the harder the better.

“It appears that various growth factors must be carried from the periphery of the body into the brain to start a molecular cascade there,” creating new neurons and brain connections, says Henriette van Praag, an investigator in the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. For that to happen, “you need a fairly dramatic change in blood flow,” like the one that occurs when you run or cycle or swim.

So call the trainer! We’ll see you at the gym!

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