Exercise Makes You Smarter

This is the second in a series of four-minute exercises you can do to improve your brain health and functioning, adapted from the wonderful Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Dr. Wendy Suzuki, neuroscientist at NYU.

This week’s post focuses on fast, fun ways to exercise that make your brain smarter.

That aerobic exercise helps your brain function better is now irrefutable.  The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) released during vigorous exercise causes new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus, the structure of the brain we use to consolidate learning into long-term memory.  The BDNF also causes those new neurons to increase the length, density, and complexity of their dendrites, (the extension of the neuron that receives input from other neurons) creating a “thicker” more complex brain, and it speeds the maturation of those new neurons into fully functioning brain cells.

Exercise also causes more blood cells to grow in the brain, increasing the fuel (oxygen and glucose) that gets to the brain.  Exercise also releases essential neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine that make brain functions better, endorphins so that we feel better, and acetylcholine so that the brain feels “sharper”.

When there’s simply not enough time in the day to work out at the gym, or go for a long swim, hike, or bike ride, try these simple four-minute exercise routines that can spark growth and health in your brain:

* Walk up the stairs to your favorite upbeat song for four minutes; you can repeat this exercise many times a day if you wish.

* Do a combination of desk push-ups and squats at work; challenge a friend or co-worker to do this exercise with you; again repeating as many times a day or week as you wish.

* While you are brushing your teeth, do a rotation of deep knee squats and side bends (face toward the mirror and slowly lean your body to the right and to the left, stretching out the ribs on the side opposite to the direction you are leaning).

* Play a four-minute game of tag with your kids, or borrow a friend’s kids to play tag with.

* Set a timer for four minutes and clean up as much of your home or office as you can as fast as you can.  Try cleaning the bathtub or do some speed vacuuming or mopping; that can really work up a sweat and it will last only four minutes!

* Be a kid again by using a Hula-Hoop for four minutes.  It’s an amazing aerobic workout for your abs and core.

Have fun, and know that you’re caring for your self by caring for your brain.