Exercise: Mind and Body

Can exercise make you smarter? Maybe not, but it looks like it can help your brain work more efficiently. It’s clear to almost everyone these days that what goes on in the mind has an effect on the body. However, did you know that it works the other way around, too?

Research scientist William Greenough found that the brains of mice, that ran on treadmills and learned a balancing task, had far more blood vessels and denser nerve connections than the brains of mice that did not exercise. This suggests strongly that the mental demands of making the muscles work lead to a “pumped up” brain. Physical engagement and mental engagement seem to go hand in hand.

Another scientist, Robert Dustman, looked at the electrical activity in the brains of two groups of elderly people, one athletic, the other sedentary. Dustman found that the brain waves of the athletic group more closely resembled those of younger people. So, while training the mind can help us get the most out of our bodies, it’s important to know that physical training and exercise can do a lot for the mind, too – especially as we grow older.

And finally, according to Ulrich Mayr, Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, “The most important thing that you should know is that you do have some degree of control over how your brain changes as you age. And much of that has to do with healthy lifestyle choices.”

We understand now what the ancient Greeks took for granted: the brain and body are parts of a single system, and what goes on with one has a profound effect on the other.