Does keeping fit make us smarter?

Does keeping fit make us smarter?

Healthy body, healthy mind. It might be an old saying but the latest research proves it’s a fact.

After examining the brains and fitness levels of 9 and 10 year olds, US researchers recently concluded that white matter is much thicker and stronger in fitter children.

Increase in white matter has also been found in active adults who participate in regular moderate exercise. So it’s never too late to boost your brain!

Why white matter matters

While we’re more familiar with the squishy ‘gray matter’ that makes up the main brain cortex and actual neurones, white matter is like the subway connecting the neurones. Sending signals to different parts of the brain, white matter is critical for faster thinking, better memory and attention span.

How does exercise change the brain?

Aerobic exercise causes increased blood flow to the brain, triggering neuroplasticity –new connections and reorganisation in the neural pathways and even the neurons themselves. Exercise also helps generate new brain cells and form new blood vessels.

How much exercise is needed?

Children should do 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This should include moderate exercise such as walking and cycling, as well as more vigorous exercise such as fast running and organised sports. Adults need to aim for 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week.

Remember every little helps.  Just three 40 minutes brisk walking a week has been shown to slow down brain atrophy (shrinkage), which begins in our forties. 20 minutes walking improved exam results for ADHD students.  

In fact, any physical activity which helps avoid a sedentary lifestyle will benefit your white matter.

The key to taking care of your brain is using your body. Be smart – get active!  

The Author

Kath Webb

Kath is a contributing writer for PayasUgym. Football, running, weight training, yoga and walking are her forte, along with cooking tasty, nutritious food - with a regular batch of cake chucked in.


Sasha B.
8 December 2014

Sasha B.

I never realised exercise had so much impact on the brain. I agree with Craig that gyms - and the government - should promote mental benefits more

craig t.
30 November 2014

craig t.

Part of my intention in going to the gym is to boost my brain health for when I'm old.The mental benefits should be more emphasised in gyms too.

Sarah L.
29 November 2014

Sarah L.

I don't think young kids need to be made to run around - stopping them is the hard bit! The important thing is to make sure it carries on once they start heading for the screens.

Mike D.
28 November 2014

Mike D.

I agree Peter, it sounds like a crazy amount, but if you think they are awake for 14+ hours a day, is it really that much for them to be active for an hour of that? I don't think it means an hour in one go. Walking to school could count, but so many children get driven now.

Peter W.
26 November 2014

Peter W.

60 minutes of exercise a day for a child is quite a lot to squeeze in. After school they are too tired for anything much. Do schools make them run around at break time at school? That would be the obvious time for getting exercise in

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