Proof that *Swimming Makes you ‘Smarter.’*
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on July 7th, 2010

In today’s NY Times the article Your Brain on Exercise covered some ground that will be very familiar to readers of this blog. The main idea can be succinctly summarized as:

1.┬áHuman brains produce new brain cells–=a process called neurogenesis.

2. Exercise increases neurogenesis.

3. Neurogenesis improves thinking.

Apart from raising, then debunking, a notion that too much exercise might hurt neurogenesis, the content of this article offers little that’s new or significant. Like many others, it missed what I think of as the most important point of all. Since exercise increases neurogenesis and neurogenesis improves thinking, the optimal situation would be to use that new improved thinking capacity to tackle new and more complex skills in your exercise.

In other words, don’t just push your body, push your brain at the same time. This lets us know that not all exercise is created equal when it comes to brain-building.

When it comes to promoting brain function, the most beneficial physical activities combine the following characteristics:

Aerobic – Ensures the brain a better supply of the oxygen and glycogen on which it runs.

Complex – Complexity (i.e. as gymnastics involves more complex skills than running) requires the brain to coordinate a ‘suite’ of motor and cognitive functions, leading to Synaptic Plasticity – a richer network of connections between neurons and circuits

Kaizen – The potential for continuous long-term skill improvement means that both neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity will also continue at elevated levels than when the improvement curve levels off. This also leads to the development of “cognitive reserve’ which has been credited with increasing resistance to age-related loss of mental acuity.

Sensory Enriched – Activities that rely heavily on a well-developed sense of feel, and which provide enriched sensory feedback, promote more neurogenesis than activities you can do on auto-pilot.

Swimming provides the greatest opportunity to exploit the brain-building potential of all these characteristics.

Which means a strong case can be made that Swimming Makes you ‘Smarter.’

3 Responses to “Proof that *Swimming Makes you ‘Smarter.’*”

  1. Alan says:

    Time for that ‘professorship’, too many minds ready to absorb this approach!

  2. Swimming Log says:

    Good to know! Yet another benefit to a sport that we love.

  3. Kerstin says:

    Very interesting post! Crushing arguments that might help me to battle the “inner pig-dog” more often!

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