Physical exercise is something many of us have had to pivot on during the pandemic. We all know that exercise is good for our body, but not everyone fully understands the clear link between physical and mental performance. According to scientists, physical fitness fosters mental fitness. Movement is not only good for our body but also provides our brain with many benefits. These include:

Cognition: One study shows that even 20 minutes of exercise improves memory, focus and information processing*  Peak mental performance is said to occur around 2- 3 hours after exercise. This is likely why so many people attest to the advantages they experience from working out in the morning, before starting work.

Neuroplasticity:  When the heart umps higher amounts of oxygen to the brain, it releases hormones that act like fertilizer in stimulating the growth of new brain cells as well as increasing the connections between them. This means our ability to learn, grow and adapt through life is optimized. A greater capacity to change and strengthen our brain circuitry helps us hardwire new information and habits, keeping us mentally fit.

Memory: Greater cell growth in the brain’s hippocampus, responsible for long-term memory and learning, means we are less likely to experience cognitive decline in later years. Studies show that people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience Dementia and Alzheimer’s when compared to their non-active peers.

Mood:  Studies show that cardiovascular exercise has an ‘anti-depressant’ effect on children and adults and can significantly reduce anxiety and aggression. Harvard Neuroscientist, Dr. John Ratey claims, ‘A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Ritalin and a little bit of Prozac’. Ratey’s research on schools that incorporate daily cardiovascular fitness activities into school curriculum is astounding, showing not only an increase in academic performance but additionally an 80% drop in disciplinary issues.**

Health:  Regular physical activity lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of stroke, improves cardiovascular function, and increases immunity and bone density. It’s no surprise then, that all the Blue Zone communities around the world (places with a higher proportion of people aged 100 or older), cite regular exercise as part of peoples’ daily routine.***

So many reasons to move!  Next time we will cover the topic of time and energy, and how to optimize it.

* ‘Effects of acute bouts of exercise on cognition’, Acta Psychol (Amst)., March 2003.
** Ratey, J.,‘Spark. The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain’, 2008.