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Exercise & Cognition

by Darcy Nee

Have you ever had anyone tell you to go for a walk to clear your head when you were feeling overwhelmed? Well, they were not just saying that to get you of the room. There is an actual reason for that. According to studies, exercise does provide you with the ability to think clearer and reason better. So when you come back from that walk, you feel more refreshed and ready to resume your work.

John Medina in his book “Brain Rules: 12 principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School” takes a look at these studies. Some of the questions he addresses include: Is it possible physical activity influences our cognitive skills? Are the cognitive abilities of someone in good physical condition different from those of someone in poor physical condition? And if someone in poor physical condition were whipped into shape, would this affect their cognitive skills?

Exercise, Medina explains, not only improves cardiovascular fitness, which in turn reduces the risk for diseases such as heart attacks and stroke, but a lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes remarkable elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. In his book, Medina compares the lives of two men in their eighties who lived through similar eras. One of them still spoke very eloquently and with clarity, while the other hardly spoke at all. Maybe a cry now or then, but mostly stares into space was this man’s existence. This puzzled Medina because how could two men of the same age and lifetime end up in two extremely different circumstances? But he later learned that one of the “greatest predictors of successful aging was the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle,” he wrote. In fact, exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, and problem-solving. Ultimately, exercise improves a whole host of abilities used in the classroom and at work (though Medina notes that short-term memory skills and certain types of reaction times are not affected by physical activity). Therefore, it seems if we want to maintain our clarity of thought through life, we should plan for a life of movement and exercise. But can we start at a later age and still get the same result?

Even after years of sedentary lifestyle, studies found that when these individuals begin an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back. Positive results were discovered even after as little as four months of activity. The catch, however, is you must continue to exercise, or the cognitive abilities diminish as fast as they came. Though many of the studies performed use older populations a few studies have shown that the same results occur with school-age children, Medina describes. In one study, children jogged 30 minutes two or three times a week. After 12 weeks, their cognitive performance had improved significantly compared with pre-jogging levels. When the exercise program stopped, the scores dropped to pre-experimental levels.

Every individual should consult with their physician before beginning an exercise program, however, according to Medina just several times a week of walking is beneficial. Other studies suggest 30 minutes of aerobic activity two or three times a week and add a strengthening routine and you can get even more cognitive benefit!

At Kinetic Konnections our goal is to improve neuromuscular function enabling better movement, including exercise—helping your brain health too!