Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the new studies suggesting that physical fitness benefits our brains and even the brains of our unborn children in lasting ways.
Despite the popularity of word games and crossword puzzles for maintaining brain dexterity, exercise may be the best way to keep your brain sharp. Moreover, moderately vigorous exercise could strengthen our negotiating skills.
At a Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego recently, a group of neuroscientists discussed different studies suggesting physical exercise stimulates the brain in ways that mental exercises cannot. In a study of laboratory rats, it was found that the rats that were exercised vigorously and regularly performed significantly better on tests of memory and mental acuteness than sedentary rats. Moreover, older rats that were run regularly on treadmills also demonstrated greater range of motion and mobility than sedentary rats. It was believed that the exercise triggered the release of dopamine, which is essential to physical motion. It was concluded that regular physical exercise can actually reverse gradual slowing we experience when we are older, the slowing that can lead to lack of physical stability and result in falls.
Another study found that exercise can help to eliminate depression in patients that are classified as suffering from major mood disorders. In the clinical study conducted in Australia, 12 subjects between the ages of 15 and 25, all of whom were severely clinically depressed, after 12 weeks of exercise 10 of the subjects experienced significant improvement in their mood disorders; so much so that they were no longer medically classified as being depressed.
Exercise might also be able to help us professionally and academically. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, research suggests that moderate exercise while bargaining – either for a professional purpose or for a product such as a car – can help improve negotiating skills; provided that the exertion is labeled as “excitement” rather than nervousness. In the study, published in Psychological Science, found that, while people who dreaded the negotiating process performed worse when exerting themselves, those who didn’t feel anxiety performed significantly better while engaging in heart-rate elevating exercise.
It has also been found that pregnant women who exercise regularly increase and accelerate their babies’ brain development. Study authors from the University of Montreal measured the brain activity in 18 newborns of mothers who exercised regularly during their second trimester. The researchers found that the babies had significantly advanced brain development. The exercise also helped the mothers cope with post-partum depression and reduced the risks of complications during the pregnancy.
The more we research the benefits of exercise, the more reasons we will surely find to engage in it. Even though we tend to exercise for the sake of the health of our hearts and to stay slim, there are abundant reasons to keep fit that have nothing to do with fitting into a pair of jeans. We can improve the quality of our lives and lengthen our lives by jumping on a bicycle or running a fewmiles each day. Honestly, one hour of strenuous exercise every day for a lifetime of physical health and mental acuity – the cost/benefit ratio is enormous!
 Hamilton, Jon: Sweat Your Way to a Healthier Brain NPR 11/11/2013 http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/11/11/244503589/sweat-your-way-to-a-healthier-brain
 Richtel, Matt: Work Up a Sweat, and Bargain Better New York Times 11/9/2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/business/work-up-a-sweat-and-bargain-better.html?ref=nutrition
 Exercise during pregnancy may boost baby’s brain development: study New York Daily News 11/12/2013 http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/exercise-pregnancy-boost-baby-brain-study-article-1.1514047