Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Erickson KI, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Basak C, Szabo A, Chaddock L, Kim JS, Heo S, Alves H, White SM, Wojcicki TR, Mailey E, Vieira VJ, Martin SA, Pence BD, Woods JA, McAuley E, Kramer AF. Department of Psychology, University of Pittsgurgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2011 February 15;108(7):3017-22.. For this reason, research has linked children’s brain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn’t just for kids. Even if it’s not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults High impact running improves learning. Winter B, Breitenstein C, Mooren FC, Voelker K, Fobker M, Lechtermann A, Krueger K, Fromme A, Korsukewitz C, Floel A, Knecht S. Department of Neurology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2007 May;87(4):597-609..
For those sticklers who object to this regimen as a violation of the no-equipment stipulation—what are you, trapped in a shipping container?—Okafor has a go-to airport circuit, too, no chair required: four rounds of 20 squats, 20 lunges (with each leg), and 30 bicycle crunches. Maybe you're thinking: the airport? But don't people give you weird looks? "Of course," Okafor says. "But they're usually out of shape." Spoken like a man who isn't one bit afraid to curl a chair with a towel.
One doesn't automatically associate regular exercise with a reduction in the number of colds people get. But researchers from the University of Carolina found that people who exercised regularly were 23% less likely to get colds than those who exercised less. And if those who exercised got colds, the symptoms disappeared more quickly than in the study participants who did little exercise.
There is an abundance of evidence that shows regular exercise helps with body weight management, and can lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, increase insulin sensitivity, and increase your likelihood of continuing to exercise — all indicators of better heart health. And given that two of the greatest risk factors for strokes are high blood pressure and heart disease, it should come as no surprise that regular exercise helps reduce stroke risk, too.
It’s unpleasant, but it’s true — as we get older, our brains get a little... hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, the noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 Exercise counteracts declining hippocampal function in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Intlekofer KA, Cotman CW. Neurobiology of Disease. 2012 June 30.. Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
Sweating it out in the gym is a known de-stressor. Harvard Medical School has shown that aerobic exercise helps curb stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (as long as you're not overdoing it), while also flooding your system with feel-good endorphins. It also ups the calming, good-mood brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. So while exercise itself is actually putting low-level physical stress on the body, it can be pretty mentally relaxing.
HOW TO DO IT: Start with your weight on your right leg with your knee bent. Bent your left knee so your foot is slightly off the ground. Push off your right leg and jump to your left, landing softly and holding that position for a one-count, keeping your hips back and down throughout. Reverse the movement and repeat, gradually increasing your speed and range of motion.
Exercise has been shown to lengthen lifespan by as much as five years. A small new study suggests that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells. As humans get older and their cells divide over and over again, their telomeres—the protective caps on the end of chromosomes—get shorter. To see how exercise affects telomeres, researchers took a muscle biopsy and blood samples from 10 healthy people before and after a 45-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. They found that exercise increased levels of a molecule that protects telomeres, ultimately slowing how quickly they shorten over time. Exercise, then, appears to slow aging at the cellular level.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you know that exercise should be an essential part of your routine. But the benefits of physical activity go far beyond just physical fitness. Increasingly, more and more research is showing that working out regularly can boost other aspects of your health as well, including cognitive function and emotional well-being.