Maybe you exercise to tone your thighs, build your biceps, or flatten your belly. Or maybe you work out to ward off the big killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But how about sweating to improve your mind? "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning," says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. "Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." If you need a little extra incentive to lace up those sneakers, here are five ways that exercise can boost your brainpower.
Exercise has long been correlated with a longer life, but it’s only recently started to become clear why this might be. Studies, like a new one in the journal Preventive Medicine which found that exercise is linked to longer caps at the ends of chromosomes, have helped flesh this out a bit more. These caps, called telomeres, naturally shorten as we age, with each cell division. People who live a long time have telomeres that are in better shape than those who don’t—but there’s a lot we can do to affect the rate at which they shorten over the years. The team behind the new study looked at data from CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that for people who exercised regularly, their telomeres were 140 base pairs longer on average than sedentary people's. Which correlates to being years “younger” than their sedentary peers.
Step forward with the left foot and lower into a lunge, keeping the front knee behind the toe. Push into the heel to step back and immediately step out to the left and into a squat. Press back to start and take the left leg back into a reverse lunge, again keeping the front knee behind the toe. Bring the left leg back to start and repeat for all reps before switching sides.
HOW TO DO IT: Step to your left and lower your body into a lateral lunge, placing both hands on the floor. Without moving your feet, lift your hands and hips and shift your weight over your right foot, so you end up in a right-side lunge. Alternate back and forth for 30 to 60 seconds. To really kick up the burn, turn this movement into a monkey shuffle by simultaneously loading your hands, lifting your hips and shuffling your feet side-to-side between right and left lunge positions.
Strength training at the gym or taking a class at a fitness studio is great, but sometimes, you just want to get in your workout at home—or on vacation, or on a work trip, or wherever you may be. While most of us don't have round-the-clock access to a full gym stocked with weights and machines, the truth is that you really can work your entire body without them. Of course, equipment can help and is great for progressing and diversifying a workout program. But if you want to just get moving and do some strength and cardio work wherever you are, that's completely doable with a bodyweight workout.
Do 75-150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week. A slow metabolism and lack of cardiovascular exercise can lead to weight gain, and this gets worse as you age. Fight unwanted flab by doing at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week to rev up your body and burn calories. Activities like bike riding, walking, swimming, skiing, jogging, and rollerblading are all good options.
You’ll find planks among Ceasar Barajas‘, Jessica Muenster’s, and Amanda Murdock’s favorites exercises to do with no equipment. Murkdock (who recommends “planks all day long”— ouch) says that they work the entire body, can be done anywhere, and have a lot of variations. Muenster specifically favors plank jacks with palm-to-elbow movement because they also raise your heart rate.
If you've decided that it's time to learn how to lose arm fat, use this guide as your go-to resource. You'll learn which exercises to do, what eating plan works best and what to do about arm fat when diet and exercise don't work. Pick one workout to do each day, but try to do something on most days of the week to get results that you (and your friends) will notice.
Exercise can have a number of emotional benefits. Stress can be caused by elevated levels of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Exercise lowers these hormones, and increases serotonin, otherwise known as the happy hormone, which helps reduce stress. Working out can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Plus, coping with mood disorders that are often associated with stress can be a little bit easier when you are in good physical shape.
"This is one of my go-tos for home workouts because of how it strengthens the postural muscles," says Bloom. In other words, it's excellent for targeting your posterior chain (or the backside of your body), and that's important for improving posture, preventing back pain, and making sure you have balanced strength—which is a major key to healthy overall movement, both in and out of a gym.
Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not, we’re always looking for how to be happy. And exercise is one of the most obvious steps to take, as it’s not a coincidence that you feel better after a good workout: It’s science. A Penn State University study found that people who exercised, whether it was a mild, moderate or vigorous workout, had more pleasant feelings than those who didn’t. (1)
Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise changes the structure and function of the brain, but it’s an area of active research. So far, they’ve found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, thanks to the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. It may also help people focus, according to recent research.
Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. From developing new therapies that treat and prevent disease to helping people in need, we are committed to improving health and well-being around the world. The Merck Manual was first published in 1899 as a service to the community. The legacy of this great resource continues as the Merck Manual in the US and Canada and the MSD Manual outside of North America. Learn more about our commitment to Global Medical Knowledge.
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a high plank with your hands underneath your shoulders. Jump your feet outside your hands and drop into a deep squat position, pushing your knees out and keeping your feels flat on the floor while prying your chest open with your hands. Return to the starting position and repeat. For an added challenge, try moving both forward and backward.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.