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Brain V Brawn

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Exercise is good for the brain, not just the bod, writes Mark Laws.

You hammered the gym during spring so you could reveal your chiselled abs and muscly legs beside the pool on your summer holiday.

Correction, you got hammered at the bar opposite the gym all spring and then took advantage of the all-inclusive, exercising only your drinking arm, before insisting that NEXT year ‘things are going to be different’.

You said that last year. And the one before that. But who am I to judge?

Well I come bearing good news. Kind of.

Yes, lifting weights (safely and effectively) is a fantastic way to change your body, to build muscle and to attract the attention of fickle members of the opposite sex.

However, there are some overlooked benefits of exercise and weightlifting that you might want to use as added motivation to not be such a slacker next year – exercise is fantastic for brain function.

Not that one… the one on top of your shoulders!

Studies show that exercise increases regional blood flow in areas of the brain which are important for motor control and reward processes, both of which depend on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter for both motor control and reward-related learning and the research shows that exercise significantly improves dopamine-related brain function.

Participants within the study even reported an improvement in mood and their ability to switch tasks, which is an indicator for improved executive function.

Your hippocampus sits at the core of your brain’s learning and memory systems and has been shown to grow as you get fitter. It responds strongly to aerobic exercise which partially explains the memory-boosting properties of cardiovascular exercise… and yes, you do have a hippocampus. German researchers have even shown that walking or cycling when learning can help you to remember foreign language vocabulary.

Exercise will improve your concentration, improve your mental health, enhance your creativity and will slow down the inevitable process of cognitive decline.

It is unlikely that Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training game on your old Nintendo DS will make you looked ripped on the beach next year (although it will certainly get you a few phone numbers if you tell people how good you are at it), however, increasing your exercise levels might just improve your ability to play the game. Oh, and it could also come in handy for numerous work-related tasks that require brain function.

So if the boss finds you banging out some curls in the gym, you have genuine grounds to claim that you are enhancing your brain’s ability to function and that you will smash out some first-class work just as soon as you finish this set…

What can possibly go wrong?

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