Exercise Your Way to A Smarter Brain

By now it’s clear that if you want a healthier, longer-lasting body, you need to do physical exercise. As I’ve written in this space before, it’s becoming clearer that mental exercise yields a more robust, healthier brain.


But does physical exercise do anything for the brain?


In a review of existing literature in a paper published in the January 2008 issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Charles H. Hillman, Kirk I. Erickson, and Arthur F. Kramer professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana come to a tentative yes.


The paper called “Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effect on brain and cognition” concludes: 

There is converging evidence at the molecular, cellular, behavioural and systems levels that physical activity participation is beneficial to cognition. Such evidence highlights the importance of promoting physical activity across the lifespan to reverse recent obesity and disease trends,as well as to prevent or reverse cognitive and neural decline. Accordingly, physical activity can serve to promote health and function in individuals, while also lessening the health and economic burden placed on society. 

How might this work? In an interview Professor Kramer told my fellow blogger Alvaro Hernandez 

We do know…that physical exercise has a multitude of effects on brains beyond neurogenesis (the growth of nerve cells), including increases in various neurotransmitters, nerve grown factors, and angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). 

So it appears that regular cardio work probably helps build the brain. Does it make sense to crosstrain; that is work your heart and brain muscle concurrently?


Yes. In fact Kramer suggests you do it in combination with social interaction. He specifically suggests starting a ‘walking book club.’


What else could informal learners do to simultaneously exercise their brain and their brawn?  

  • You could listen to or watch instructional CDs/DVDs or books on tape as you go through your paces.
  • You could dictate material as you move your grooved thing.
  • You could load up your iPod with informational podcasts and review them while you sweat.
  • You could do mental calisthenics. I know how tired I am in part based on how well I do when I’m going through the multiplication tables in my head. If I can’t do or remember what 14 times 14 is while I row, I know my body’s tired.

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5 Responses to “Exercise Your Way to A Smarter Brain”

  1. Books and Magazines Blog » Archive » Exercise Your Way to A Smarter Brain Says:

    […] Original post by Thelearnersguild’s Weblog […]

  2. Ann Kroeker Says:

    Cool research is affirming my formerly nerdy habits of combining jogging with listening to books on tape from the library. I listened to most of Don
    Quixote while exercising. And then I listen to the Learning Company lectures, too. Geeky, yes, but according to the research you cite, my brain must be fit as a fiddle!

    Perhaps one day it won’t be geeky at all…perhaps the shift will be to my favor, and those jogging to ’80s retro tunes will be the geeks?

  3. LocquaciousLogician Says:

    Is that article online?

    I really do need to exercise more from hereon. For every chapter I read in a book, I’ll do fifty push-ups.

  4. ewriter2 Says:

    Interesting concept. I have found that dictating notes and ideas while driving is a sure cure for writer’s block, but I don’t suppose that is really exercise.

    Unfortunately, I had my wife read your blog and she suggested that I duct tape my laptop to the lawnmower. Now, that does sound like exercise. Maybe it would make me smart enough to hide your blogs from my wife!

  5. Remmrit Bookmarking Says:

    Molecular Bookmarks…

    Remmrit.com user has just tagged your post as molecular!…

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