Exercise is like Mozart for the mind

Overwhelmed a constant plethora of tasks and responsibilities, many of us can be victims of our own intensity and self induced stress, often limiting our ability to think clearly. Without some external intervention or mustering of great will power, it may be difficult to unwind. Resist the most tempting recourse of heading to the local bar or pub for a couple rounds of beer. Instead, try putting on a pair of running shoes or hopping on my bike, knowing that overcoming that initial inertia will be rewarded with a satisfying runner’s or cyclist’s high.

However, there is more to this “high” than the endorphins. Exercise is known to reduce your brain’s reaction time, increase the flow of oxygenated blood to your brain, and stimulate growth of new brain cells. The brains of athletes of competitive team sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, football that require dexterity and fine motor skills have been proven to have faster decision-making abilities and are more adept at finding solutions. Their athletic activities condition minds to be active and alert. Recent studies have shown that human cognition and brain function significantly improves with aerobic activity, both in practice (performance on verbal tests) and theory (amount of grey matter and neural growth in the brain). However, these benefits don’t come with all forms of exercise, since these improvements were not observed in study groups that performed only muscle building exercises, such as weight lifting, or stretching exercises. Scientists suspect that this is likely due to the dramatic increase in blood flow in the body that carries growth factors to areas like your brain. This suggests that exercises that improve aerobic capacity such as running, swimming, cycling, can make you smarter, or at the very least, help maintain your mental faculties.

About the Author

Grace is an avid cyclist, vocal proponent of walkable/bikeable communities, a budding news junkie, and a native Angelino. A neurotic workaholic by nature, she has learned to expend her tremendous nervous energy through exercise and outdoor recreation. She has developed the strong belief that health and happiness come from quality time spent with family and friends, in self reflection, and in connection with nature (to paraphrase Bill McKibben).

In acting on this realization, she has explored numerous trails in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California with friends and family, has spent endless hours in the good company of alder trees and ants, and has ruminated under the stars in the high sierras. A recent graduate of University of Cambridge, UK, Grace has also rambled across dewy verdure hills, amongst sheep and grazing cattle, and often pondered the discrepancies between the European and American lifestyles. Through these experiences, she has come to love and appreciate, over and over again, the importance—for cultivation of our minds, bodies, and even, spirit—of exploring and respecting nature’s “outdoor laboratories.”

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