Anyone who has ever tackled a treadmill for 30 minutes (or less) has a solid understanding of the physical effects of exercise on your body.
(Sweat attack, anyone?)
But here's what's going on in your head at the same time: All that extra blood bathes your brain cells in oxygen and glucose, which they need to function. The more they get, the better they perform.
Every muscle you move also sends hormones rushing to your brain. There, they mix with a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which plays a role in brain cell growth, mood regulation, and learning. "BDNF is like fertilizer for the brain," says John J. Ratey, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Without it, our brains can't take in new information or make new cells."
Exercise has another vital role: It signals the release of several key hormones, including serotonin, the famed mood booster; dopamine, which affects learning and attention; and norepinephrine, which influences attention, perception, motivation, and arousal. This exercise-induced chemical cocktail has a powerful impact. "By elevating neurotransmitters in the brain, it helps us focus, feel better, and release tension," Ratey says.
Experienced regularly, all that rushing of blood and hormones primes your brain to grow. In one study, researchers scanned the brains of people who exercised for one hour per day, three days a week, for a duration of six months. They discovered an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory and learning. Working out literally bulked up the study participants' brains, allowing them to perform better at tasks that require concentration and recall — two talents that come in handy if, say, you do your own taxes or tend to forget passwords.
In conclusion: Exercise improves attention, memory, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which helps you make smarter decisions.
So what are you waiting for? Go get smarter!
[Image via SELF Magazine.]