Some unexpected cognitive benefits of exercise
By: Adam Stone
Working out is a great way to get your body into shape. If, however, you already know this, and in fact exercise to achieve this very goal, this may come as no surprise to you and you may presently be considering switching to another article. As a Cognitive Scientist and all-round fitness enthusiast however, I am here to shed some light on some surprising benefits regular exercise can have on your brain, and how you use it.
1. Regular exercise can improve your creativity
A study in 2005 from the Creativity Research Journal found that people were reported as more creative than those who had not exercised for up to two hours after their workout. Aside from increasing your chances of becoming the next Picasso or Mozart, you may find yourself making choices that had never occurred to you before, or switching things up in your daily life that keep things interesting.
2. Working out can improve memory and mental performance
It’s true. An activity that improves a wide range of functions below the neck can also have untold benefits upstairs as well. Exercising regularly stimulates chemicals in your hippocampus, or the memory centre of the brain, allowing for physiologically measurable improvements in memory performance. The sharper your memory, the easier it is to learn new things and see the world from an entirely new perspective. Still not convinced? Keeping track of your exercises and sticking to a regular schedule is a mental exercise in of itself, teaching you discipline and time management skills.
3. Keeping fit can help prevent cognitive decline in older adults
Regular exercise at any age can help prevent natural cognitive decline that typically begins after 45, again due to stimulation in the brain’s memory centre. If you are below this age, you need not wait. If you are above, it’s not too late. Becoming fit can help prevent and alleviate a variety of ailments, which brings me to my next point.
4. Staying in shape can help combat mental illness
Nothing beats the blues like a tough workout at the gym, where you can blow off some steam, meet friends, and forget about your troubles for a while. However, exercise can actually assist in combatting symptoms of depression and general anxiety, and can sometimes be as effective as prescribed medication. As reported by the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), aside from producing dopamine and endorphin (reward and feel-good chemicals of the brain), exercising allows you to improve your body image while enabling you to teach yourself healthier coping strategies.
Time’s up for the classic concept of the “dumb jock.” Exercise is as cerebral as it is physical, and the more you give in the gym, the more you may get out of life. Think about it. It may just work out in your favour.
Adam Stone is a PhD student of Cognitive Science and a fitness writer for Carleton Athletics.
13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise. (n.d.). Greatist. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://greatist.com/fitness/13-awesome-mental-health-benefits-exercise
Cooney, G. M., Dwan, K., Greig, C. A., Lawlor, D. A., Rimer, J., Waugh, F. R., … & Mead, G. E. (2013). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 9.
Blanchette, David M., Ramocki, Stephen P., O’del, John N., and Casey, Michael S. (2005), Aerobic Exercise and Cognitive Creativity: Immediate and Residual Effects, Creativity Research Journal, 17(2&3), 257-264.
Depression (major depressive disorder). (n.d.). Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495
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