Exercise Will Make You Smarter and Happier

Exercise can increase IQ and leads to happiness.
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You already know that exercise will help improve your fitness level, can reduce your risk for chronic disease, and can help slim your waistline. But did you also know that getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity may also make you smarter and happier? Three studies add to the multitude of research that proves you really should make time in your busy schedule for at least 30 minutes each and every day.

William Killgore PhD and Zachary Schwab BS, of the McLean Hospital at Harvard University, asked 25 healthy adult men and 28 women from the Boston area to report on their weekly exercise habits and then take a test known as the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. At least for the women surveyed, those who exercised more frequently each week had higher intelligence scores.

“Overall, these findings suggest that physical exercise is significantly related to relatively stable intellectual capacities among healthy adults,” the authors wrote in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.

While in this small study, the relationship between physical exercise and measured intelligence was most evident for women, there is no reason to believe that men would achieve similar mental benefits from putting in a workout each day.

Another recently released study found that people who exercise may be better protected from age-related changes in the brain, particularly for elderly adults. Participants in a study published by the University of Edinburgh found that people over 70 who exercised regularly showed less brain shrinkage over a three-year period than those who did little exercise. Brain shrinkage is linked to problems with memory and thinking.

The researchers found that in the brain’s white matter – the wiring that transmits messages through the brain – was less damaged in those who exercise. Additionally, grey matter, the part of the brain with nerve cell bodies, was also greater in volume.

Dr Alan Gow of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology who led the research, said, "Our results suggest that to maintain brain health, physical activity may be more beneficial than choosing more sedentary activities. Increasing physical activity - even a short walk each day - can only be encouraged."

Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK added, “This research re-emphasizes that it really is never too late to benefit from exercise, so whether it's a brisk walk to the shops, gardening or competing in a fun run it is crucial that, those of us who can, get active as we grow older."

Not only will that boost in activity help your brain stay young and active, it can also lift your mood after a hard day. Researchers with Penn State found that exercise really does make people happier.

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Jaclyn Maher, a graduate student in kinesiology, studied men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 – a period in life when people appear to be most dissatisfied. “"Emerging adults are going through a lot of changes; they are leaving home for the first time and attending college or starting jobs. As a result, their satisfaction with life can plummet,” explains Maher.

The participants were divided into two groups who made diary entries either every eight days or every 14 days. The volunteers were assessed for their personality and took questionnaires asking about happiness levels and life satisfaction. They also reported on physical activity levels during the study period.

"We found that people's satisfaction with life was directly impacted by their daily physical activity," said Maher. "The findings reinforce the idea that physical activity is a health behavior with important consequences for daily well-being and should be considered when developing national policies to enhance satisfaction with life."

"Based on these findings, we recommend that people exercise a little longer or a little harder than usual as a way to boost satisfaction with life," said David Conroy, professor of kinesiology.

The CDC recommends 150 minutes each week, which sounds like a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be accomplished all at once. Try doing a moderate intensity or vigorous workout for just 10 minutes at a time a couple of times a day. The benefits will add up, both physically and mentally.

Journal References:

WILLIAM D. S. KILLGORE and ZACHARY J. SCHWAB (2012) SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND IQ. Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 115, Issue , pp. 605-617. doi: 10.2466/06.10.50.PMS.115.5.605-617

Jaclyn P. Maher, Shawna E. Doerksen, Steriani Elavsky, Amanda L. Hyde, Aaron L. Pincus, Nilam Ram, David E. Conroy. A Daily Analysis of Physical Activity and Satisfaction With Life in Emerging Adults.. Health Psychology, 2012; DOI: 10.1037/a0030129

A. J. Gow, M. E. Bastin, S. Munoz Maniega, M. C. Valdes Hernandez, Z. Morris, C. Murray, N. A. Royle, J. M. Starr, I. J. Deary, J. M. Wardlaw. Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: Activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity. Neurology, 2012; 79 (17): 1802 DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182703fd2

Image credit: Morguefile

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