Running for brain power

Have you ever heard the phrase “jog your memory”? There’s more to it than just an old cliche. Imagine yourself taking a history test. You’ve studied for weeks and know the textbook backward and forward. You even know which page talks about the civil war. But then, your mind draws a blank. You can’t think of the answer to the next question. What do you do?

If you’re like most people, you’ll try different ways to “jog your memory.” You might try to picture the page and the words in your mind. You might try to think of something that’s associated with the same topic. You might even try to think of where you were when you studied that question. These are some ways to try to trigger a memory. But did you know that jogging (really running and working up a sweat) can actually benefit your memory as well as your intelligence?

Exercise stimulates the growth of developing brains. Dan Landers, Ph.D., looked at 13 different studies, and in each one, students under 16 years old showed the greatest link between exercise and brain power. In fact, these studies indicate that young people who exercise regularly become smarter than those who don’t. And that goes for older people too. Professor Brad Hatfield found that men who did aerobic activities (exercise that really gets your heart and lungs working for at least 20 minutes) did much better in math and in concentration than men who didn’t work out regularly.

More Oxygen, Higher IQ?

Now what about that history test that has you stumped? Dr. Roy J. Shephard found that young people who jog or do other aerobic activities for an hour each day did better on their school tests than those who were less active. Studies are now finding that there is a direct link between fitness and intelligence. So why is it that going out for a jog not only works your heart and lungs but your mind too? It’s simple: The answer is oxygen! When you expand the heart and lungs, your body is able to take in more oxygen. The brain depends on oxygen to function properly, and a healthy heart gets more oxygen to the brain. Robert Dustman, Ph.D., acknowledges this vital link to the brain: “Improve your heart and lungs and you get smarter.” Scott Hinkle and Bruce Tuckman tested students in fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth grades. Half of each group ran for a semester and the other half didn’t. The kids who ran showed greater gains on their end-of-the-semester creativity tests than those who didn’t run.

So, when you can’t figure out the right answer for your history test, don’t get too bummed out. Go for a jog! Jogging actually makes you feel better. It can help clear your mind of worries, which can free you up to think of new strategies for problem solving. In fact, more doctors are becoming aware of the benefits jogging can have on changing moods. Some even prescribe exercise programs for people who are depressed. Higher amounts of the hormone called noradrenaline are found in people who run regularly. This hormone helps to put you in a better mood. Some people who once needed drugs to feel better are now exercising instead. Regular exercise is a natural, drug-free way to better health and self-esteem. When you’re feeling down, go for a jog and feel the difference!

If You Think You Can…

Picture yourself winning a race, making every free throw you attempt, kicking field goal after field goal. Does this sound impossible? Thinking it is actually the first step in doing it. On May 11, 1995, the American Academy of Neurology met in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone explained his research on mental practice. He studied three groups of people – one that practiced a physical skill, one that visualized themselves doing the activity, and one that practiced both physically and mentally. The group that had the best performance improvement after five days was the group that practiced the activity both physically and mentally. He found that this was true for any skill needing rehearsal, not just sports activities. If you are going to give a speech or perform music or drama, mental practice can make dramatic improvements.

A Win-Win Situation

Working the body to help the mind perform and working the mind to help the body is a win-win situation. Exercise helps you feel better about yourself and shapes up your body. Jogging can escalate your creativity, chase the blues away, and elevate your IQ. It’s a total body workout. Remember: “Practice makes perfect.” Imagine yourself running and doing well on a run. But don’t stop there. Imagine yourself doing other things too, and doing them well.