Scientists are trying, once again, to convince us that exercise is a worthwhile endeavor. Under normal circumstances, I refuse to listen to this nonsense, largely because exercise severely limits the amount of time I can spend eating tacos and watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix, but their new campaign, that working out can actually make you smarter, is backed by some pretty compelling evidence and since I like to think I’m a reasonable woman I figured it wouldn’t hurt to hear them out.
A German study found that older adults who enjoy a mild work out – gardening, for example – are half as like to experience cognitive impairment as they age. Another study noted that retired adults who took a couple of walks during the week had higher scores when quizzed on attention and memory tests. What’s more interesting is that these results bridge the age gap – it’s not just “old people” who benefit. Similar studies have indicated that children who walk to school are better able to concentrate and test better than their counterparts who receive rides to school. One (it’s me, I’m the one) might argue that those children are better able to concentrate and test better because the walk to school allowed them to expel a little extra energy, but I made a resolution to not be so disagreeable, so I withdraw my argument. THIS time.
The science is pretty straightforward. Your brain needs oxygen. The more oxygen your brain receives, the better your brain performs. When you exercise, if floods your blood with oxygen which in turn is pumped to your greedy brain. These oxygen boosts give your brain energy to think, memorize, and recall information quickly and effectively. Additional research indicates that additional oxygen to the brain promotes the grown of neurotransmitters and growth hormones. Unused neurons are stored and as we age and our brains deteriorate we are able to pull from these reserves to replenish our stock. This allows us to stay alert and focused as we age.
Moving forward, Scientists hope to create “exergames,” activities that integrate physical activity with cognitive training, that will give people the opportunity to exercise their two biggest muscles: their brain and their ego. Just kidding – everyone knows the brain is not a muscle. I wonder if “exergames” will look anything like Cranium – if so, I will hard pass on that. At any rate, this is great news for those of us who worry about cognitive decay. I’m not joining the gym, but I think I’ll opt for the stairs everyone now and then, just in case.