Train Your Brain With Exercise

Not only does it benefit your body, working out can make you smarter

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Anyone with a brain exercises these days, but did you know exercise can return the favor and train your brain? Not only is exercise smart for your heart and weight, but it can make you smarter and better at what you do.

"I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment," says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User's Guide to the Brain. "Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being."

Stephen C. Putnam, MEd, took up canoeing in a serious way to combat the symptoms of adult ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Then he wrote a book, titled Nature's Ritalin for the Marathon Mind, about the benefits of exercise on troublesome brain disorders such as ADHD, a neurological/behavioral condition resulting in hyperactivity and the inability to focus on tasks.

Putnam cites studies of children who ran around for 15 to 45 minutes before class and cut their ants-in-the-pants behavior by half when they got to class. As with most exercise, the effects were relatively lasting -- smoothing out behavior two to four hours after the exercise.

Putnam also points to some preliminary animal research that suggests that exercise can cause new stem cells to grow, refreshing the brain and other body parts. According to Ratey, exercise also stimulates nerve growth factors. "I call it Miracle-Gro for the brain," he says.

How Exercise Trains the Brain