neuroscience and exercising

Humans are made to move 

Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? I didn’t think so.

It might surprise you to find out that early humans traveled as much as 12 miles a day (today people walk an average of less than one-half mile!). They did this to find food, safety, and to explore. For thousands of years, exercise associated as a result of exploring and traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today.

Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Exercise does humans a lot of good because it helps our brains get more oxygen. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen throughout the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability as a result of exercise.

For thousands of years while our early ancestors were being active, the cortex of the human brain was getting bigger and bigger, and as a result humans were getting smarter and smarter.

Don’t be a couch potato

University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours on end with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation.

John Medina goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Sadly, these environments are “anti brain growth environments.”

Think about it, for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move, and move often.

Bring back recess!

Today’s society is test-happy, and unfortunately a lot of academic leaders believe testing is the end-all-be-all of developing knowledge. Sadly this misguided mindset has lead to physical education and recess being eliminated from the school day so that more time can be spent on core subjects.

Is that really the right thing to do? Neuroscience teaches us that exercise facilitates intelligence and boosts memory formation. The resounding answer should be NO, it’s not the right thing to do! For the sake of our children’s mental and physical well being physical education and recess should be reinstated in schools where it’s gone missing.

Active Performance 

It is important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability, but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster cognitive response times compared to their overweight counter parts.

Building upon the principle that exercise not only leads to a healthy body, but also a healthy mind, activity and exercise were found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57% in a person’s lifetime.

The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons or do crossfit to benefit from exercise (but they don’t hurt). All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day, three days a week, and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much.

Today, we have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.

“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”

For more neuroscience information on exercise please check out Brain Rules by John Medina. You can see the cover in the bookshelf section of social-brain.

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4 thoughts on “neuroscience and exercising

  1. Pingback: Exercise May Make You Smarter « Holistic Health & Living

  2. Pingback: ADD/ADHD and TIME: 5 Systems Basics « ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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