OUR BRAINS RESPOND TO EXERCISE SIMILAR TO THE WAY OUR MUSCLES DO:  THEY BET BIGGER AND STRONGER.    

In today’s competitive business environment we need all the advantages we can get…like really gigantic, well functioning brains. Unfortunately, stress decreases portions of the brain relating to memory, learning, decision making and control of impulse behavior. It also increases a part of our brains controlling fear, anxiety and aggression.

The good news is that exercise spurs neuron regrowth (neurogenesis) particularly in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotional regulation.

In a randomized controlled trial of 120 older adults aerobic training was found to increase hippocampal volume by 2%, effectively reversing age-related loss in volume by one to two years[i]. (I don’t know about you, but I’ll happily go back to my younger 2012 brain!) For many years an established connection between exercise and a decrease in Alzheimer’s and dementia has been known. Adults who train aerobically have also been found to have greater increases in brain activity found in the frontal cortex – the advanced part of our brains – that are critical for important tasks like attention and conflict resolution[ii].

Exercise improves the following mental tasks[iii]:

  • Executive control processes
  • Planning
  • Scheduling
  • Coordination of people, places, events, etc.
  • Working memory – the brain’s ability to temporarily store and manage information required to carry out complex mental functions
  • Inhibition – the ability to block our unnecessary distractions
  • Reaction time
  • Perception and interpretation of visual images

Exercise fuels the brain and improves performance instantly. When we’re exercising the heart rate is elevated, delivering more glucose, oxygen and energy to the brain. Even a single bout of exercise can improve brain function for several hours.

EXERCISE INCREASES COGNITIVE FUNCTION AND BRAIN SIZE

If you have an important meeting, presentation or interview one of the best things to you can do to improve performance is to get in a quick bout of cardiovascular exercise. It’s also a great way to get over a creative or performance hump. Some of my best ideas come when I’m exercising…how about you?

To have Jenny Evans come and speak to your organization on stress, resiliency, performance and health, contact her here.


[i] Erickson, K.I., et al. (2011). Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (7): 3017-22.
[ii] Voss, M.W., et al. (2011). Exercise, Brain, and Cognition Across the Lifespan. Journal of Applied Physiology. April 28.
[iii] Can Exercise Make Us Smarter?  Harvard Health Beat Newsletter.  Issue #3.  April 2011.