The dumb jock, it’s one of our favorite stereotypes. We pepper TV shows, movies and books with the ruggedly buff, sweet hearted dimwit or the obnoxious yet completely ignorant athlete. I personally have been known to describe more than one football player as “taking muscle-bound moron to a whole new level”. And, why not? For many, it holds true. Sports teams always seem to have at least one member who couldn’t say the alphabet without a little help. But apparently, their miniscule IQ has no relationship to their bulging biceps. In fact, if anything, it contradicts them.
Over the past several months, a rash of studies has been conducted, examining the effects of exercise on the brain. Not surprisingly, most of these have been led by athletic scientists, determined to prove the stereotype wrong, and they have. In Illinois, researchers compared the math and reading scores of 259 elementary-school students to their levels of physical fitness. The most physically fit children were also the children with the highest scores, suggesting that a fit body means a fit mind. These findings were reinforced by a recent study at Columbia, where men and women between 21 and 45 began working out for one hour, four times a week. After 12 weeks, the amount of blood flowing to their brains had increased, and their memories had improved, significantly. Once again, those who improved the most physically did so mentally as well. So, what exactly does this mean?
To put it simply, it means that we can no longer make fun of all the jocks for being dumb, and we can’t label every phys-ed failure as a bookish geek. It also means that exercise is beneficial to you in more ways than one. You already know that working out will improve your health and overall fitness. Now you know that it will also strengthen your mind. When you exercise, you’ll be sending more blood to your brain, allowing new neurons to form, nerve cells to branch out and join together, and more knowledge to make itself at home. You’ll find that you have a bigger brain and a better memory. Of course, just as physical fitness takes time to form so does mental fitness. Running around the block before heading to a company function won’t suddenly illuminate your memory, providing you with a list of every spouse’s name and occupation. It can’t work miracles. But, over time you’ll notice improvement, and as long as you keep it up, you’ll maintain that. You can be the next muscle-bound brainiac.