Will Exercise Make Me Smarter and Happier?

Increasing scientific evidence says “Yes”! What’s good for your heart and waist line is also good for your mind, and your frame of mind. We all know that working out is great for a wide range of medical reasons including heart disease, diabetes and so on… but did you know it can put you in a good mood? Folks who don’t exercise tend to have a greater chance of getting depressed.  Anti-depressants are handed out these days like candy, and in many cases these patients could have more profound and long term positive results if they just exercised.  The long term impact of drug intervention for depression is questionable.  There have been a number of studies that have evaluated exercise therapy for depression.  These studies have shown long term positive results with additional positive effects on overall health as time goes on.  Drug therapy cannot boast these claims.

You’ve all heard of “the runner’s high”. It’s that euphoria that people experience after prolonged aerobic exercise. This is a real thing! These good feelings are based on the body’s chemistry and how it responds to stimulus. There are neurotransmitters called endorphin and serotonin that are released in the parts of your brain that process emotions. Endorphins and serotonin contribute to making us feel better. So, rather than taking Prozac, a more natural route may just be to exercise more to produce these neurotransmitters.  Depressed people often experience overwhelmingly low levels of energy. They can often lack desire to do anything. This can cause a person to stop exercising which just compounds the effects of depression. The key is to try to get out there for as little as 15 to 30 minutes a day to start the ball rolling in the right direction. You don’t have to be an “athlete” to experience these affects and benefits.

We all know that exercise improves blood circulation throughout the body, which of course includes the brain. Exercise also boosts metabolism, decreases stress and improves mood and ability to focus, all of which help the brain perform better.  Neuro-scientific studies are exploring the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety, stress, depression, learning, and aging. The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health (PCPFS Research Digest, 1996) states “physical activity appears to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood” and “regular physical activity may reduce the risk of developing depression.”

Exercise and Alzheimer’s disease – New research is now looking into whether progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s can be slowed by exercise.  The Alzheimer’s Association recently stated “physical exercise is essential for maintaining  good blood flow to the brain as well as to encourage the production of new brain cells, thereby protecting  against those risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias.” A mechanism thought to be responsible for this is a part of the brain called the hippocampus. It plays a large role in memory and learning. One study showed that runners have a boost in blood flow to the area of the hippocampus and an increased growth of new brain cells. Because of these exciting findings and obvious implications there are a number of studies going on.   A study from  Annals of Internal Medicine,  one the largest, most definitive studies to date on the relationship between dementia and exercise stated “In fact, just 15 minutes of exercise — such as walking or swimming — three times a week can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease or other dementia by 30 to 40 percent."

We can also extend this knowledge to children. Again there is growing research in discovering causes that improve concentration and learning. It appears that performance on standardized testing, grades and other measurements of learning show there is a strong relationship between aerobic exercise and higher achievement.  Not to mention lowering body fat, particularly since teenage obesity is a nationwide epidemic.  According to the report, 14% of adolescents in the United States are overweight. This figure has nearly tripled in the last 20 years.

Well...are you sold?  Remember, you don’t need to do much to get the awesome benefits.  As little as 15 minutes of brisk walking can boost the blood flow through the body. Of course more than that will give you better effects. Exercise can make you smarter and happier in as little as 2 weeks. Feel good and be smarter by bikini season!

As my 82 year old friend Donna says: "I'm a better thinker because I have a better body. I really believe that!”