Physical Activity is Cognitive Candy
ONE of the key attributes displayed by all good leaders is the ability to think for themselves. Now that might sound a bit simple; after all, we all think for ourselves, at least to some degree. But real independence of mind, a trait indispensable to anyone aspiring to be a leader in any endeavor, means being reality-focused all the time. It requires will, awareness, concentration, and lots and lots of thinking. And that is most definitely not something the majority of humans do, much to our regret.
Intuitively, and perhaps by our own experience, it makes sense that getting plenty of exercise helps us perform better not only physically, but also mentally. Ask anyone who has gone from a predominately sedentary lifestyle to a regimen of regular exercise, and they’ll no doubt tell you they feel better, have more energy, are more alert, and can concentrate more easily and for longer. The question is, why? How does exercise improve mental efficacy?.
As John Medina reveals in his very readable book, “Brain Rules”, the human brain, and its capacity to reason, evolved on the move. Pre-agricultural humans covered around 20 kilometers a day. The cells of the brain, like all cells in the body, burn glucose for energy and produce toxic waste in the process. The blood brings oxygen which handles the toxic waste, taking it back to the lungs where its expelled as carbon dioxide.
The brain though, uses an inordinate amount of energy. While only 2% or the average human’s body weight, it consumes 20% of the energy. That burns a lot of glucose and produces a lot of toxic waste and so needs a lot of blood flow for delivery and clean up. That’s where exercise comes in. Exercise increases blood flow, and in so doing stimulates production of new blood vessels that reach deeper into the tissues of the body. This includes increasing flow to the brain. Medina writes: “…exercise literally increases blood volume in a region of the brain called the dentate gyrus. That’s a big deal. The dentate gyrus is a vital constituent of the hippocampus, a region deeply involved with memory formation.”
Medina goes on to highlight how studies are increasingly confirming that the increased blood flow to the tissues made possible through regular exercise, “… improves – sometimes dramatically so – problem-solving abilities, fluid intelligence, even memory.”
Medina also relates examples of the difference in old age between lifelong exercisers and those with a sedentary lifestyle. The former are often alert, active, and sharp well into their eighties and beyond, while the former are more likely to be vegetating in a geriatric home, are twice as likely to suffer dementia and 60% more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.
Not sure what more motivation anyone would need to get out and move for 30 minutes 2 to 3 times a week. A ridiculously small price to pay for a better-functioning mind and a longer, disease-free life. Get to it.