Do these exercises to make you smarter

Joe Vesey-Byrne
Saturday 20 August 2016 18:20
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Picture: gradyreese/iStock

Improve your memory, information processing, and ability to deal with stress by doing these basic exercises.

Any layman scientist will tell you that running causes an endorphin surge in the brain, creating a sense of well being and a "runner's high". Yet, these exercises have been shown to actually improve concentration and intelligence, not just make you feel good.

Writing for the New Scientist Teal Burrell explained how the brains of people who regularly exercise look different compared to people who live a more sedentary lifestyle.

Fitness magazine has reported that regular exercise makes you a better decision maker (by causing blood to flow through the brain's anterior frontal regions), and that by playing sports you can become a better map reader. Game sports such as cricket, or spatial activities such as surfing, make you regularly think about how your body is moving through space, and how objects will appear from different angles.

The right exercise for you, depends on what way you'd like to be smarter.

1. Yoga - Memory and information processing

By stimulating the frontal lobe, yoga improves your ability to integrate thoughts and emotions. Yoga is often recommended to help with stress, and a study by an academic at Harvard University, Sara Lazar, has confirmed it has a physical effect on the brain. Lazar found that Yoga reduced the size of the brain's amygdalae, the region that processes fear and anxiety. Learning to cope with your emotions, while not 'book smart', constitutes an important emotional intelligence. Another study at the University of Illinois [link to fitness magazine] found that a single 20 minute session of yoga improved university student's ability to process information, and the improved capacity kicked in just half an hour after the yoga session had been completed'.

2. Interval training - Appetite and cravings

Multiple studies have found that craving control, which happens in the hypothalamus, was improved by interval training. This extends to other addictions as well as food, such as cigarettes. A study at the University of Plymouth deprived smokers of cigarettes for 15 hours and then showed them images of cigarettes. Scans of the brains of smokers who had undertook 10 minutes of moderate biking were visibly relaxed by the images of cigarettes. Similarly a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that when done in hot temperatures less intense exercises reduce appetite, and vice versa. In the heat, exercise creates less of the 'hunger hormone' ghrelin.

3. Circuit training - Attention to detail

Circuit training affects a number of areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, the parietal lobe and the cerebellum. It improves your visual and spatial processing, the ability to switch between tasks, and attention to detail.

4. Aerobics - Verbal memory

Regular aerobic exercise was found to improve the work of memory in the hippocampus part of your brain. Verbal memory was improved, such as the ability to recall that word that's just on the tip of your tongue.

5. Weight lifting - Multi tasking and problem solving

A study by the New Scientist showed that two one hour sessions per week of weight lifting stimulated activity in the prefrontal cortex, improving the executive function and associative memory of participants. Associative memory is when we connect two things, such as putting a name to a face. Lifting weights was found to improve things such as attention span, and even stave off the effects of Alzheimer's.

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