Exercise can improve intellectual capacity

April 10, 2013 

We all believe that exercise can improve our physical well-being, but can it also improve our intellectual capacity and mental well-being?

In the book “Spark,” author John Ratey, Harvard Medical School, provides great insight into the significant role physical exercise has on our mental and intellectual capabilities. He scientifically documents how exercise will “supercharge your mental circuits” to reduce stress, improve your mood, and sharpen your memory.

For most of us, our lifestyle does not include very much physical activity unless we make an effort to include it. It has been determined that about 65 percent of our nation’s adults are over-weight or obese and 10 percent of the population has Type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease caused from inactivity and poor eating habits. This major health problem, previously confined to the adult population, has now spread to our children and even new born babies.

In “Spark,” Ratey reports how a school district transformed the student body of nineteen thousand into one of the healthiest in the nation. Not only were the students considered some of the fittest in the nation, but also some of the smartest because of the revolutionary physical education program they adopted. This also applies to adults.

The fitness program, PE4life, was adopted at Woodland Elementary School right here in Kansas City in 2005. The documented results of that program over one school year not only improved the fitness and intellect of the students but also saw a reduction of incidents involving violence. Many other schools have experienced similar successes. PBS created a documentary featuring the PE4life program that aired on PBS.

There are 52 million children who attend public and private schools in the United States. If all of them had the benefit of a good physical education program our next generation of adults would be healthier and smarter.

For some of us, it is difficult to get into the habit of regular physical exercise, but we all feel better after we exercise, even if we do not know why. According to scientific research, it is because exercise makes our brains function better and that toned muscles and better lung capacity is only a side effect.

Our society treats the mind and body as if they are separate entities. However, as inactivity is allowing our bodies to increase in size, what we don’t realize is that inactivity may be causing our brains to get smaller. The brain responds to exercise much like muscles do, growing with use, withering with inactivity.

What choices will you make about the health of the minds and bodies of your children and yourself?

Judy Schmoeger, a longtime resident of Lee’s Summit, is owner and general manager of Anytime Fitness.

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