What Happens When You Combine Learning with Exercise?

When Susan and I were in medical school we learned a few things that have since been disproven.  For example, we were taught that we only have a set number of neurons or brain cells.  We believed that once a brain cell was lost due to injury or toxicity, it would never be replaced.  It is now know that, in healthy brains, the creation of new neurons is an ongoing and lifelong process.  Unfortunately, the number of new neurons we produce slowly declines with age. There is, however, something that we can do to prevent this “natural” decline in mental function.

An abundance of research shows that everyday forms of learning stimulate the brain cells to function at optimum levels.  The brain is stimulated by reading, learning new tasks, attending lectures, engaging in problem solving, and so on.  It’s not a total surprise that using your brain actually makes you smarter.  However, I am fascinated by the research that links exercise to intelligence.

It is well known that aerobic exercise in children is associated with better attention, improved memory, better decision making, and higher academic performance.  These benefits are also seen in young and elderly adults.  So, how does exercise make you smarter?  Answer: exercise increases the number of neural stem cells in the brain.  These stem cells ultimately develop into mature brain cells.  When you combine learning with exercise two things happen.  Exercise stimulates the production of neural stem cells and learning promotes the maturation of these stem cells into brain cells.  More brain cells allow for more storage of knowledge and information.

The bottom line is this: both learning and exercise are required to optimize intelligence and to prevent the natural decline in mental function. Grow ever smarter by exercising routinely and living a life filled with learning and exploration.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD

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