ay what? NOT exercise? Surely that’s a typo…
Well, before we look at the reasons why you should NOT exercise for mental clarity, let’s take a quick look at the reasons why experts are saying you SHOULD indeed exercise for mental clarity.
Scientist have given us a new reason to head to the gym with a study that links aerobic exercise in older woman to an increase in size in the hippocampus region of the brain.
If you don’t already know, the hippocampus region of the brain is a small seahorse-shaped region on either side of the brain. It is critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories.
A Georgia Institute of Technology study shows that an intense workout of as little as 20 minutes can enhance your long-term memory, even in young adults.
Exercise affects the brain in multiple ways though. Not only does exercise increase how much oxygen is pumped to your brain, it also triggers the release of a variety of hormones. These hormones are responsible for creating a healthy environment for your brain to grow new cells.
One reason exercise leads to a happier, healthier brain is because it promotes neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells. This helps improve cognitive function, says Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. You can read her book here Healthy Brain, Happy Life.
Indirectly, exercise also improves sleep and mood, and reduces stress and anxiety. When a person experiences problems in these areas, it often causes, or contributes, to cognitive impairment.
There seems to be a difference though, in the type of exercise which is most effective for growing new brain cells. Cycling appears to be more helpful than running. Exercises that require both mental and physical demands are also helpful. Time to get out those old tap shoes, my dear!
Scientists may not have a full understanding yet of why and how our brains have evolved to experience such a boost from exercise, but when we look at our fight-or-flight response, which we have our ancestors to thank for, we can begin to understand the euphoria they felt when they escaped a sabre-toothed predator!
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons why you should be exercising for mental clarity, let’s take a look at the reasons why you should NOT be exercising for mental clarity:
- In a study, published in JAMA, Dr Kaycee Sink, Director of the Memory Assessment Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and her colleagues came to the somewhat surprising conclusion that exercise doesn’t help elderly people to maintain their brain functions.
There’s a caveat though:
- Since the volunteers in the study were older, Sink says that the exercise may not have started early enough or lasted long enough for it to have significant effects on the brain. “We certainly can’t rule out that exercise is something that needs to start earlier,” she says. “Life long healthy habits are probably important.”
Given the fact that this was the ONLY reason we could find to NOT exercise for mental clarity, we are going to suggest you stick to a healthy exercise routine, unless you are over 80 years of age, and you haven’t been (at least somewhat) physically active.
If that doesn’t sound like you, then best you stick to regular aerobic AND weight bearing exercises – if you want to grow a bigger hippocampus, that is. Here are some tips to help you do that:
- If an exercise routine is good for your heart, chances are that it is good for your brain, so go for it!
- The best time of day to exercise is in the morning. It will prepare you for the day ahead and prime your brain to absorb a day full of information.
- Exercises that combine coordination and cardio is best – the perfect type of class for this is dancing.
- Circuit workouts are a great brain-boosting exercise. They require plenty of attention to perform properly, and they also provide a quick spike in your heart rate.
As it turns out, exercise, which helps the body and overall physical health, is the perfect way to obtain focus and mental clarity. Now you have an even better reason to look after your body and head to the gym.
If you were reading this article to find a reason to skip the gym, I’m afraid you’re going to have to get off that couch – NOW!