Working Out Doesn’t Just Make You Stronger, It Makes You Smarter

by Morgan Clendaniel via @fastcompany

We already know the facts: Our country is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Few American adults exercise enough, and that poor lifestyle choice is getting handed down to our children, who are getting fat at record levels. And all that obesity is affecting our health, causing heart disease, diabetes, and untold other health consequences. But what if the effects aren’t only physical?

This new infographic, from points out that exercise has some great benefits for not just how our body works, but how our brains work, too. It’s clearly important for kids, who need all the brain power they can get for school, but it’s equally important for adults: A fit worker is a fast, efficient worker.

First, let’s review the facts. Children--who should be buzzing about with so much energy that we have to ask them not to exercise--aren’t moving around that much anymore. (Ironically, part of the problem is the diminished role of phys ed in many public schools.) Only one in four children get 30 minutes of daily exercise, and by the time they’re teenagers, only 12% are getting their daily recommended amount of physical activity.

So what? Bill Gates probably spent more time tinkering with computers than he did on the basketball court, and he turned out fine. But not all of us are Bill Gates. In fact, only one of us is. Most of us could probably use a little brain boost, and it turns out that exercise does just that. In studies of students, vigorous exercise was shown to improve IQ scores by 3.8 points--and test scores, too.

This applies to adults, as well. Exercise improves memory, releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein that makes your neurons healthier), and has been shown to potentially increase the size of your hippocampus--the part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial recognition. It’s no surprise, then, that college students who work out before class do better on tests, and workers who work out are more efficient.

The lesson? If your employees want to take a longer lunch break to hit the gym, you should let them. You’ll be getting more than enough out of them in the afternoon to make up for the lost time.

See the full infographic here or see it below, if you’re not too busy at the gym!


Morgan is the editor of Co.Exist. Formerly, he was the deputy editor of GOOD.