Fitness Magazine

Personal Proof That Exercise Increase Intelligence!

By Gjosefsberg @gjosefsberg

After his run, Bob figured out cold fusion!

Grok will be back on Wednesday.  In the meantime, a word from the more evolved portion of my brain!

Just like I believe in exercising to keep my body fit, I also believe in exercising to keep my brain fit.  That means doing things that are intellectually challenging in order to improve my problem solving skills, attention, focus and memory.  I’ve been playing around with a site called Lumosity lately, using their brain exercises as a way to keep intellectually fit.  It’s a fun application and I urge everyone to try it out, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point of this post is the connection I’ve noticed between physical exercise days and mental abilities.  Specifically, the improvement I see in brain functions immediately after working out.  Even more specifically, the incredible improvements I see after a nice, hour long cardio session.

Note that I usually exercise in the morning, before coming in to the office, and then use Lumosity as soon as I sit down at my desk.

Running Improves Attention, Response Time, Problem Solving and Focus, but Not Memory

I thought it was my imagination at first, but when I played these games after running I felt much more capable.  It was like my brain was working at a higher speed.  I was responding faster and the questions seemed easier.  So,being the data nerd that I am, I decided to make things a bit more scientific.  Rather than going by gut feel, I actually checked out test scores and this is what I found:

  • In the Lumosity games that improve focus, attention and problem solving, my scores are usually 20% higher if I play them within an hour or two after my run.
  • Resistance exercise got a similar but smaller improvement.
  • This improvement in scores tapered off and disappeared completely in about 3 to 4 hours.
  • I could get a smaller version of this improvement by taking a brisk, 30 minute walk.
  • Exercise did not improve my scores on games that emphasized memory

What’s Going On Here?

I suspect that, when I work out, I’m essentially telling my body “HOLY CRAP!  CRISIS TIME!!!” and I trigger my fight or flight responses.  My body responds by increasing my physical abilities and my ability to focus, pay attention and solve problems quickly, all things that you’d need if you were faced with a crisis like a tiger chasing you.  Memory is not really needed in this situation so it’s not activated.

Sugar Deadens Your Brain

By the way, because I’m a giant nerd, I also ran some tests to see if things changed when I ate different foods.  The only one that made a difference was sugar / caffeine.  It gave me a small boost immediately after eating it but my scores plunged to way below normal very soon after.  In fact, I was scoring around 30% lower than usual about an hour after consuming sugar or caffeine.

Lesson Learned, Exercise Makes You Smarter

Not just in the long term but also in the short term.  If you need to solve problems, pay attention or focus on a hard obstacle, you may want to take a quick walk or do some jumping jacks.  Also, caffeine and sugar are not your friends when trying to think.


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