In John Medina’s Brain Rules, rule number one says, “Exercise boosts brainpower.” In a way that feels like saying, “The Atlantic is damp,” but Medina emphasizes his point evolutionarily. In the good old days, he writes,
If we sat around the Serengeti for eight hours — heck, for eight minutes — we were usually somebody’s lunch.
The body needs food and turns a lot of it into glucose. The brain craves glucose. 2% of our body weight, the brain consumes 20% of our glucose. As we metabolize glucose, the process releases electrons in the form of free radicals. These aren’t good for us.
Oxygen in the blood stream absorbs the free radicals and expels them in the CO2 we exhale. The point of this biology lesson is that exercise increases blood flow, which can construct new blood vessels, which means more efficient disposal of the free radicals.
So, the Romans were right: mens sana in corpore sano. The sound body actually contributes to the sound mind.
According to Medina, research suggests that exercise also increases Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF appears to strengthen neurons and, even more important, increase neurogenesis: it helps you grow new brain cells.
Inch by inch, row by row
As with the garden in the David Mallette song, we can foster the growth. Medina suggests things like to recess periods per day for schoolchildren or treadmills in cubicles.
When I worked in a cubicle, there was barely room for a guest chair, let alone a treadmill. Still, the fundamental things apply: regular exercise makes you smarter. How many workplaces allow for, let alone encourage, physical activity? The organization and the culture laud multitasking, a myth with barely more evidence than the tooth fairy. Not then I’m in favor of mandatory company calisthenics; more that I’d like to see work-life balance means something other than, “We’ll provide the work and you spend your life balancing.” in the meantime, I’ll see if I can manage to exercise as often and as regularly as I scribble here on the Whiteboard.
(Note: since my WordPress update this weekend, the “Series” codes I’d put in don’t seem to work. I’ll try and resolve that today.)
(Okay, so I resolved it eight weeks later… but I did resolve it. Dave, June 28, 2008)
The image is a detail from a photo by Joe Shlabotnik / Peter Dutton.