(NaturalNews) We've all heard about the benefits of exercise for our hearts and to reduce cholesterol, but what about for happiness, improving intelligence and memory as well as for alleviating addiction, stress and aggression.
These are the findings from Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain, a book published this year by John Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Ratey believes that exercise is like medicine and helps depression as well. This is supported by other studies. Depression scores were measured in a German survey where for 10 days people were asked to walk quickly on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Researchers concluded at the end of the survey that exercise significantly reduces depression.
Scientists at Yale University found that regular exercise stimulates the hippocampus which is an area of the brain responsible for mood. Their study of mice showed that exercise activated a gene in the hippocampus called VGF. VGF is linked to a chemical involved in new nerve cell development.
The findings have lead to scientists developing a drug that mimics VGF gene workings in the brain. If so, this would replace conventional antidepressants.
According to Ratey, exercise doesn't make you more intelligent, rather it stimulates the brain making for improved learning capacity thereby optimizing performance. Exercise increases blood flow to the part of the brain which is responsible for memory and learning. The stimulation improves brain functioning in learning situations.
Some schools around the world have taken note and have instituted exercise as part of the school day with teachers at Naperville Central High near Chicago reporting improved exam results.
Other studies have correlated physical activity with improved cognitive processing with the best results amongst people who were the most active. A study in Germany found a relation between the amount of activity in rats during pregnancy and the amount of cells in the hippocampus of baby rats. The more activity, the more cells. We'll have to wait to find out if this applies to humans as well.
Increased blood flow to the brain also improves memory function. From studies with mice at the Columbia University Medical Centre (NY), new brain cells grew in the dentate gyrus area, an area which is affected in old age. With new cell growth due to exercise, memory would improve.
The findings about exercise reducing aggression are not new –- we know that exercise is a good way to let off steam by burning energy. However Ratey says that the reason aggression is reduced is due to changes in the brain due to exercise which removes the feeling of aggression.
Scientists in Britain found that just five minutes of brisk walking can alleviate withdrawal symptoms caused from giving up smoking. They believe that exercise stimulates how much dopamine (a mood enhancing hormone) is produced which reduces the desire for nicotine.
Ratey believes that a brisk 30 minute walk four to five times a week is the minimum to achieve the benefits. He also recommends interval training where you speed it up by sprinting for around 30 seconds then walking for two minutes.
Information for this article was taken from The Sydney Morning Herald June 7-8 2008 Can jogging make you smarter? by Simon Usborne republished from The Independent.