Brain food. How you can sweat your way to intelligence.

A good run or work-out can sometimes make you feel like ‘a brand-new person.’

Well, that’s what people say.

And, in a way, this feeling may be true – quite literally.

About three decades of research in neuroscience have identified a robust link between aerobic exercise and subsequent cognitive clarity; and to many in this field the most exciting recent finding in this area is that of neurogenesis.

Not so many years ago, neuroscientists believed our brains were given a set amount of neurons, and that by adulthood, no new neurons would be birthed.

Thankfully, however, this turned out not to be true.

Studies in animal models have shown that new neurons are produced in the brain throughout the lifespan, and, so far, only one activity is known to trigger the birth of those new neurons: ‘vigorous aerobic exercise,’ says Karen Postal, president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.

‘That’s it,’ she says. ‘That’s the only trigger that we know about.’


The other fascinating thing here is where these new cells emerge: in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

So this could help explain, at least partially, why so many studies have identified a link between aerobic exercise and improvement in memory.

“If you are exercising so that you sweat — about 30 to 40 minutes — new brain cells are being born,” adds Postal, who herself is a runner. “And it just happens to be in that memory area.”

And further post-sweat changes have been recorded in the brain’s frontal lobe.

This area of the brain — sometimes called the frontal executive network system – is right behind your forehead.

And after about 30 to 40 minutes of a vigorous aerobic workout – yes, enough to make you sweat – studies have recorded increased blood flow to this region, an area of the brain which promotes clear thinking – the ability to plan ahead, to focus and concentrate, to set goals and manage our time.

Now where did I leave my lycra?