Want to Get Smarter Without Even Trying? Science Says Do This 1 Thing!
Let’s start with a huge “duh”: We all know exercise is good for our health.
But what you may not have known is that a lack of exercise won’t just get you out of shape. It can also make you dumber.
And it gets worse. Sit for the majority of the day, and your risk of cardiovascular disease doubles compared with people who stand. Sitting for more than six hours a day can make you 18 percent more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease, and obesity than people who sit less than three hours a day.
If that’s not bad enough, sitting for more than 11 hours a day makes you 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years compared with people who sit for less than four hours.
So, yeah, exercise helps us avoid a lot of bad things. We don’t need science to tell us that.
But exercise is also a scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter.
For example, one German study found that older people who take part in mild exercise–as “mild” as gardening–are half as likely to suffer from cognitive impairments as they get older. But the elderly aren’t the only ones who benefit: Kids who walk to school tend to concentrate better and achieve higher test results than those who travel to school by car or bus.
According to Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes, a book about the science of exercise, recent research shows that exercise can help your brain resist physical shrinkage and improve cognitive flexibility.
“Exercise,” she wrote in the New York Times, ” … does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.”
Your brain is a tissue, and like any other tissue, abuse, lack of use, and especially age cause its performance to decline. Sometime in our late 20s, the hippocampus, the portion of our brains devoted to learning and memory, starts losing about a percent per year in total volume. So it’s no surprise that as we get older we naturally lose some of our memory and learning capacity.
But what is surprising is that, just like with your muscles, exercise can slow or even reverse the physical decay of your brain.
While you may have been told that once you lose brain cells you can never get them back, new brain cells can be created–and exercise helps trigger that process.By exercising you not only build muscle. You build a bigger brain.
Exercise also makes those new brain cells more effective. According to Reynolds:
“Brain cells can improve intellect only if they join the existing neural network, and many do not, instead rattling aimlessly around in the brain for a while before dying.
One way to pull neurons into the network, however, is to learn something. Exercise, on the other hand, seems to make neurons nimble.
So how much exercise is enough to build a better brain?
Most studies have focused on aerobic activities like running or swimming. But even walking can make a difference. One study showed that older people who walked for just 40 minutes three days a week took two years off the “age” of their hippocampus and improved their memory function.
So don’t take a walk at lunch just to destress, clear your head, and improve your chances for a longer and healthier life.
Take that walk and get a little smarter, too. Maybe not this smart (“Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science” is one of my favorite MP lines), but still.