Get smart

When I was in university the school calendar had a joke printed inside that said, “How do Human Kinetics students study? Run extra laps? Lift heavier weights?” When I graduated from UBC one of my relatives saw my grad photo and laughed, they said “why do they have you sitting in front of all those books, you didn’t go to law school”. 

I refrained (which is so unlike me) to say we actually studied the science of exercise; biomechanics, nutrition, biology, anatomy you know, stuff that was in books…

However, that was a long time ago and I am still studying, reading and staying interested in the science of exercise. It appears that my love of exercise, studying or participating, is an ongoing benefit to my brain.

A new study of older adults shows that the fitter the adult, the more active their brain is when learning. What was thought to be age related changes in brain activity may actually be fitness related changes. The researchers compared unfit adults (18-31 years old ) to older (55-74 years old) adults of various fitness levels. They found that very fit older adults had better memory performance and increased brain activity patterns when compared to the unfit adults of any age. 

Other studies on activity and your mental capabilities show precise and predictable changes in your brain with physical fitness.

Want to improve your memory? Aerobic activity is the answer. Aerobic exercise grows your hippocampus. The brain’s learning and memory centre. 

Want to learn a language? A moderately paced aerobic exercise while learning helps new vocabulary stick. 

Want to improve your attention span?  Breaking up learning/working into chunks with 10-20 minutes of exercise improves executive control.  Allowing for people to ignore distractions and organize their thoughts.

Want to improve your mental health? Exercise. Physical activity effects your mood. From running to yoga, exercise makes a difference.

Want to alleviate depression? Exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant drugs and counselling.

Want to be more creative? Walking improves divergent thinking. Get creative by being active.

Want to be more resilient? Resistance training twice a week shows changes to the functional plasticity of your brain. What the heck is functional plasticity? The ability of our brain to adapt and use other areas of our brain if one area is compromised, as in PTSD, or damaged, from an accident or stroke.

Want to keep your brain healthy? A study from UBC shows that resistance training twice a week slows the age-related shrinking of your brain.

Want a few more reasons to exercise for your brain? A study published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, confirms the following mental health benefits from resistance training: improved memory, improved executive control, improved cognition, reduced depression, reduced chronic fatigue, improved sleep quality, reduced anxiety, improved self-esteem.

Mental and physical fitness are not separate entities. What we do to our bodies, we do to our brains.

And yes, I did run extra laps and lift heavier weights.

Change your mind, change your health,



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