Encouraging Health and Happiness

The Exercise That Makes You Smarter

By Bill Phillips and the Editors of Men’s Health
Jul 11, 2011

I don’t run. More specifically, I don’t run pointlessly—that is, up the street, around the block, on a treadmill, or anywhere else for the sake of a cardio workout. If I wanted to expend all my energy going in circles, I’ll argue politics with my inlaws.

No, when it comes to running, I require a purpose. Someone just passed me a basketball. My opponent just rocketed a backhand down the line. The building’s on fire. These are all great cardio workouts. So is this quick body-weight workoutthat every guy should try.

My coworkers at Men’s Health have come to accept this about me. We’ve agreed to disagree. It was all very amicable.

And now, I regret to admit, I may be wrong.

According to a new study, running—with a destination in mind or not—does have a point after all. It makes you smarter. In a recent study, researchers at UCLA monitored learning-related brain waves in mice, and found that the waves got stronger as the mice ran faster.

Granted, we’re not mice. But this is more evidence on what’s become a towering stack of research suggesting that regular aerobic exercise boosts your brainpower and lowers your risk for age-related dementia. To wit:

  • A study in Neurobiology of Memory and Learning found that participants were able to learn vocabulary words 20 percent faster after high-intensity exercise.
  • In a University of Illinois study, college-age men and women given a mental test after running on a treadmill for 30 minutes were able to work more quickly while making more accurate decisions.
  • Several studies have found that running for 30 minutes three times a week can improve your decision-making proficiency, bolster your memory, and lengthen your attention span.
  • A U.K. study discovered that employees work 15 percent more efficiently on days they exercise. In other words, you can pack 8 hours of work into 6 hours and 48 minutes. In other words, you can run your way to your next promotion.

With efficiency gains like that, who says you don’t have time to work out during the day? Still not convinced? A few years ago, Fitness Director Adam Campbell talked to dozens of successful, time-crunched men who are dedicated aerobic exercisers. Steal their simple strategies:

1. Wake up early. “Once you form the habit, it just becomes ingrained in your lifestyle,” says Joe Hogan, CEO of GE Healthcare. He’s been waking up at 5 a.m. for 30 minutes of cardio, 4 days a week, for 20 years. A 2005 study published in Health Psychologyreports that it took new exercisers about five weeks to make their sessions a habit. And hitting the road at dawn doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on sleep. Researchers at Northwestern University found that men who started exercising in the morning slept better than they had before they began working out.

2. Prioritize your life. Calculate the average time you spend daily doing everything from analyzing spreadsheets to watching TV. “Once I counted up the wasted hours, it was easy to see that I could fit exercise in by deciding what’s most important,” says Joe Blesse, a pilot for Continental Express who lost 150 pounds after initiating a cardio program two years ago. Blesse’s advice: Always give priority to activities that serve the greatest purpose—those involving work, family, and exercise. For example, a 30-minute run trumps a 30-minute sitcom, every time. It’s that simple.

3. Call it multitasking. “I work on my most challenging business issues while running, cycling, or skiing,” says David Varwig, CEO of the Citadel Group, a global investment firm. Exercise isn’t work time lost; it’s an opportunity to focus on problems without distraction. At home, exercising with your spouse or kids is quality time. “Whether it’s a hike with my wife or hitting the streets with the baby jogger, I make exercise a family event whenever possible,” says David Daggett, an Ironman triathlete and a managing partner at Lewis and Daggett, a North Carolina law firm.


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