How Exercise Makes You More Smart (Get It?)

Many of us spend most of our days in the gym trying to lose weight or put on muscle. Many a person has wasted countless hours walking on a treadmill or pedaling away on a recumbent bike in hopes of developing those ever evasive 6-pack abs. 


However, there is an underlying effect that exercise has on us that most of us don’t appreciate. Actually, I would imagine most people don’t even stop to think about this effect because they are too focused on trying to get through the final 10 minutes on the elliptical. 


But, before we talk more about that, let’s talk a little more about different types of exercise. 


What, Exactly, is Exercise Again? 


In a previous article, I talked about the difference between Non-Exercise Activity and Exercise. In short, Non-Exercise Activity is, well, non-exercise in nature. Where as exercise is defined as activity for the purpose of increasing your health and fitness, non-exercise activity might be defined as every other activity you do throughout the day. 


Now, I make this distinction because it’s going to play a part in our understanding of what else exercise can do for us besides get us ripped. First, because exercise is purposeful in nature, it takes some form of cognitive function to decide to do it in the first place. Sitting on the couch and vegging out is a decision, but not inherently difficult. Exercising is also a decision, but requires more cognitive effort than the former. So we’re already starting to develop an understanding of this new effect of exercise, that being improving your cognitive function. 


The above example is a bit of a stretch. I can’t say that studies have been done to prove the deciding to exercise verses deciding to sit and watch Netflix actually improves cognitive function. However, because of the general qualities that each activity holds (exercise is harder to DECIDE to do than watching Netflix), I’m going to make the connection that your cognitive function increases because of the decision 


How Does Exercise ACTUALLY Make You Smarter? 


Let’s take it a step further, though. Although there haven’t been studies proving the deciding to exercise makes you smarter, there have been studies on what types of exercise make you smarter. Case in point, a recent study of 20 subjects was done on the topic. The 20 subjects were volleyball players training to improve their overall abilities and volleyball skills. Training interventions included specific volleyball training, resistance training and sub-maximal aerobics training (running). 


The study measured the working memory of the subjects before and after exercise. The results were pretty clear cut, showing the memory significantly improved after exercise on all accounts. But the activity that improved memory the most was specific volleyball training. 


So why does it matter what type of exercise you’re doing when it comes to making you smarter? The answer can be linked back to the idea of purposeful practice. Have you ever heard the saying “practice makes perfect”? Well, that’s a lie. Practice doesn’t make perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. However, practice does make permanent. But it can’t just be any kind of practice. It has to be purposeful practice. You can’t practice passively to make yourself better. You have to pay attention. You have to push your limits. 


And this is the connection between smart exercise and dumb exercise. Dumb exercise is okay. Getting on the treadmill is dumb exercise because it doesn’t require much thought. Doing a dumbbell curl is dumb exercise because it’s easy to perform. Doing a Turkish getup, on the other hand, requires your attention. And if you don’t give it the attention it deserves, it’ll let you know about it by dropping the weight on your head (not sure what a turkish getup is? Check it out HERE). 


By the way, this same theory can be said for exercise and fat loss (but in a different kind of way). Fat loss happens most effectively when you make your body do something that it is not good at. When you throw something new at your body, it takes more energy to do it than if you do the same thing over and over again. In short, inefficient exercise is the most efficient way to burn fat. 


Let your exercise do more for you than just get you bigger shoulders or a shredded 6-pack. These are great things to have, for sure. But if you’re going to put in the effort, you might as well get as much as you can out of it. Take some time to figure out what you can add into your training routine to make yourself think (remember the turkish getup I mentioned?), and slowly you might notice other parts of your life becoming more effortless, as well.


If you’re not involved with something that is improving your life and are ready to make a change in your health and vitality, start by setting up your Vitality Strategy Session! Our Pack is here to support you on your journey.

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Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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