Increase your fitness - and your IQ

Author: Siobhan Martin  

The first time Ms Nine came home from school and said she’d spent part of the morning doing disco moves to Katy Perry’s Firework, I thought about ringing the school to complain.

But then she explained it was part of her “Brain Break”, a break during the school day where kids get up and move around to get the blood flowing. And it’s not only happening in Australian classrooms. In the UK and Ireland it’s called “Wake Up, Shake up” while Finnish schools provide a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction.

It’s a far cry from being told to sit down and stop fidgeting as we were in my day. So what has led to this increase in physical activity at school?

Increasing amounts of research have shown that physical exercise can help brain activity when it comes to learning. We generate new neurons throughout our lives, which are recruited by our brain to learn new things more effectively. Neurologists at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that exercise is one of the most effective ways of “feeding” our neurons and keeping them alive.

So next time you’re revising for an exam, take your notes down the gym, prop them up on the exercise bike and start peddling. Some scientists suggest that exercise in the morning is the best time to boost your brain. Why not jump out of bed and do a few laps in the pool before relaxing and revising over a cup of coffee? That’s sure to help stop any brain drain.

But the links between exercise and maintaining a healthy brain are not just critical for young people. Older people, particularly those who are worried about memory problems, stand to benefit as well. A study by the University of British Columbia has found that exercise improves the area of the brain devoted to memory and thinking. With diagnoses of dementia rapidly increasing in the West as the population gets older, these findings are timely.

And, you don’t have to do that much exercise to get some benefits. The British Columbia study found just two hours of brisk walking a week saw improvement in participants’ brain function.

“But summer is over,” I hear you say. “I can’t get out and run and swim and cycle. What about I just sit on the couch and watch a few documentaries instead?”

No. The “winter is coming” excuse doesn’t wash anymore. Although research is quite new, evidence is beginning to emerge that suggests cold water swimming (an anathema to most Aussies) is extremely beneficial, particularly in improving your mood (SAD anyone?)

But before you break that icy frost on your pool and leap in, a couple of tips. You should swim a little (ie. don’t stay in too long) and often, so your body can acclimatise, and if you have heart problems, you probably should check with your doctor first.

As a former cold water swimmer, I can attest to its benefits. There is nothing like snapping on a swimming cap (or two) prior to doing a (very) quick length across the pool. Then leaping out for a hot cup of tea and a scone with your fellow swimmers. Although here it would probably be a sausage sizzle in front of a warm barbie. Fancy a dip, anyone?


Siobhan Martin is a former London journalist living on the Central Coast.

She is a long-time foodie, and thanks to her super healthy husband, now has an interest in exercise.

The slings and arrows of life have taught her to be more mindful, and pace herself. In view of this, she tries to exercise five times a week, but sometimes stays in bed. She also attempts to feed her three children as healthily as possible, but occasionally reverts to chicken nuggets. 


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