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Food For Thought — Here’s Why Exercise Can Help You Think Sharper; More Creatively


If you’ve ever felt sharp, clear-headed, and/or explosively creative directly after exercise, psychologists think there may be more than anecdotal evidence to back the addictive phenomenon. Your next workout may literally be food for thought.

Scientific American provides two potential explanations behind exercise’s mystical effect on cognition. The first – and better known – of which is an influx of blood and O2 to the noggin:12

“Part of the reason exercise enhances cognition has to do with blood flow. Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.

The second is due the hippocampus, a section of the brain critical to spatial orientation and the formation/organization of new long-term memories (damage can cause amnesia, memory loss, and contribute to the effects of Alzheimer’s):

“Another explanation for why working up a sweat enhances our mental capacity is that the hippocampus … is highly active during exercise. When the neurons in this structure rev up, research shows that our cognitive function improves. For instance, studies in mice have revealed that running enhances spatial learning. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boost memory in older adults. Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers.

200px-Gray739-emphasizing-hippocampusWhile the linkage remains speculative, considering the hippocampus’ role in memory formation, going for a run or powering through a quick workout in the early AM/at lunch may help improve info retention and learning throughout the day.

It may or may not be confirmation bias, but I’m a hardcore believer in micro-exercise breaks to spark heightened cognition. I’ve been known to do push ups in the handicapped bathroom, walk around during brainstorming sessions, or throw in a few sets of mountain climbers/jumping jacks/planks/etc. whenever the mental juices stop churning.

If you’re stuck in the office all-day, you don’t have to go to neurotic, semi-insane lengths to leverage the cognitive high from exercise – simply walking to the water fountain or bathroom, taking the stairs, standing during a meeting or conference call, or flexing your grip may provide a mental surge.

And if nothing else, you’re burning a few extra calories and restoring blood flow/electrical activity to your lower half. Little things add up.


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Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
  1. Scientific American – Why Do I Think Better After Exercise []
  2. Lifehacker – Why Exercise Helps You Think Straight []
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