(BICYCLING) Selene Yeager — Every morning Canadian neuroscientist Brian Christie, PhD, gives hisbrain an extra boost. We’re not talking about tossing back multiple strong shots of espresso or playing one of those mind-training games advertised all over Facebook.
“I hop on my bike, go to the gym for 45 minutes, then ride the rest of the way to work,” says Christie. “When I get to my desk, my brain is at peak activity for a few hours.” After his mental focus sputters to a halt later in the day, he jump-starts it with another short spin to run errands.
Ride, work, ride, repeat. It’s a scientifically proven system. In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.
Grow Your Mind
Exercise is like fertilizer for your brain. All those hours spent turning your cranks create rich capillary beds not only in your quads and glutes, but also in your gray matter. More blood vessels in your brain and muscles mean more oxygen and nutrients to help them work, says Christie.
When you pedal, you also force more nerve cells to fire. As these neurons light up, they intensify the creation of proteins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a compound called noggin (yes, really), which promote the formation of new brain cells. The result: You double or triple the production of neurons—literally building your brain, says Christie. You also release neurotransmitters (the messengers between your brain cells) so all those cells, new and old, can communicate with each other for better, faster functioning.
This kind of growth is especially important with each passing birthday, because as we age, our brains shrink and those connections weaken. Exercise restores and protects the organ, says Arthur Kramer, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Our research finds that after only three months, people who exercised had the brain volume of those three years younger,” says Kramer, referring to a study that examined the brains of 59 sedentary volunteers between the ages of 60 and 79 who either did an exercise program or were inactive for six months.
A bigger, more connected brain simply works better. “Adults who exercise display sharper memory skills, higher concentration levels, more fluid thinking, and greater problem-solving ability than those who are sedentary,” says Kramer.