Want to Get Smart? Try Working Out

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


Could those most fit also have the fittest brains?

Maybe we could increase leadership problem solving, decision making and planning by requiring that anyone supervising others exercise and work out more frequently.

Now armed with newer generation brain-scanning devices such as fMRI and more sophisticated biochemistry assays, researchers are building a case that exercise can make you smarter.

It seems that every time you work out, your muscles send out chemicals that cross the brain barrier to stimulate the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. It appears that BDNF is sort of “fertilizer” for neuroplasticity causing brain cells to branch out, join together and communicate with each other facilitating memory and cognitive processes.

Research by UCLA neuroscientist Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla suggests that rather than neurons in our brain dying off as we get older, people who exercised regularly for 3 months seemed to stimulate BDNF levels in the body causing the sprouting of new neurons. Further research seems to also support the idea that working out stimulates the growth of the frontal lobes of the brain often considered the “executive functioning areas” due to their role in decision-making, planning ahead and multi-tasking (Gomez Padiulla, F. (2007). The influences of diet and exercise on mental health through hormesis. Aging Research Reviews).

An analysis of 18 longitudinal fitness-training research studies reveal that cognitive functioning is significantly improved regardless of the type with cardiovascular workouts. The finding that exercise is a key for increasing BDNF levels in the hippocampus–an area vital for memory, problem solving and learning–has provided insight about the physiological mechanisms responsible for the effects of exercise on cognitive functioning.

In recent research by Gomez-Pinilla, blocking BDNF actions abolishes the ability of exercise to facilitate learning and memory as well as interfering with building synaptic connections. It would appear that exercise is vital for brain health and becoming smarter.

Exercise seems to have immediate, although transitory, effects. It appears you can learn 20% faster immediately after working out as opposed to sitting in a meeting. But like everything, you have to use it or lose it–one month of physical inactivity seems to actually cause shrinkage of neurons.

Not only might you actually be smarter if you exercise, there are a number of other desirable side-effects including:

  • Physically inactive employees have 45% greater chance of developing heart disease
  • Colon cancer is approximately 40% more likely to occur in those who are inactive
  • HDL cholesterol (involved in reducing cardiovascular disease) increased an average of 4.6% with exercise
  • Epidemiological research suggests that each of us can gain 2 hours of life expectancy for each hour of vigorous physical activity
  • Women being treated for breast cancer who practice moderate exercise have 50% less recurrence and death than those inactive
  • Depressed individuals who walk 180 minutes a week experience 30% more remissions than those who don’t work out
  • People who aren’t physically active have approximately 60% greater risk of developing osteoporosis

Research with our own stress and resilience measure called StressScan has recently explored just how much exercise working professionals in our sample (1,326) are really getting:

Percentage “Often” or “Always”:

41.7% — Spending leisure time participating in physical activities

33.9% — Exercising for at least 20-30 minutes three times a week to enhance muscle tone or flexibility

34.0% — Exercising for at least 20-30 minutes three times a week aerobically (e.g., running, swimming)

If the 68.7% of people age 18 and older in the US who don’t exercise would begin to start working out regularly, we might actually increase the collective intelligence of our country….Be well….


Nutrition S.O.S.

by Denise Nowack, RD

When emergencies strike access to food, water, and power can be compromised for days.  Experts recommend that we all be prepared with a three-day supply of water and food.  Follow these simple tips to help you build an emergency stockpile of the foods you’ll need.







What Does a 3-Day Supply Look Like?

A healthy food supply is more than just packing up a few snack foods in a box.  Based on the Food Pyramid, here’s what a basic 3-day reserve should consist of for each adult in your household:

  • Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta – 9-12 servings
  • Fruit – 6 servings
  • Vegetables – 7-9 servings
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Nuts – 16-19 oz
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese – 3-9 servings

Serving sizes will vary by age, gender, activity level and physical condition.

Choosing the “Right” Foods

  • Look for foods you like to eat.  You don’t need to buy unfamiliar items for your emergency supply—in fact familiar foods can help provide a sense of comfort in stressful times.
  • Look for foods that are “shelf-stable.”  These include canned foods, dried mixes and other items that require no refrigeration for storage.  As long as they remained sealed, they could last from 6-12 months. 
  • Look for foods that require little preparation.  Should you lose power, choose items that are ready to eat.  As a rule of thumb, canned foods don’t require cooking before eating.  Consider small can sizes or individual servings that provide just the amount you might consume at one time.

When the Power Goes Out

In the case of a loss of power, a charcoal or propane grill or camp stove can be used for emergency cooking.  (Be sure to use these outdoors.)  Additionally, candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots can also heat foods.  If you don’t have an alternate way to heat water, do not include instant foods in your supplies.

Storage Tips

Pack your food supply up in a covered box or container that can be easily carried out of your home in case of an emergency.  Store these in a cool, dry place that is free from insects and rodents.  Date your foods with a marker and be sure to rotate with a fresh supply every 6-12 months.  Seal cookies and crackers in a plastic container or plastic bag to preserve freshness.

Don’t Forget Water

At least one gallon per person per day should be stored away for drinking, food preparation and hygiene.  Just like your other food, date and rotate your water supplies every six months.

Stock up for Success

Let the Food Pyramid be your guide for your emergency food supply.  (The items with a * require heated water for preparation

  •  Bread, Cereal, Grains—Crackers, pretzels, ready-to-eat cereals, granola bars, rice or popcorn cakes, cookies, instant cereal*, boxed couscous*, noodles in a cup or packaged ramen*
  • Fruits—Canned fruit, fruit roll-ups, applesauce, dried fruits, jelly, canned or bottled fruit juices, powdered juice drinks, or juice concentrates
  • Vegetables—Canned vegetables, canned vegetable soups, canned or bottled vegetable juice, instant vegetable soups,* instant potatoes*
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dried Beans & Nuts—Canned tuna/salmon, tuna lunch packets, sardines, canned chicken/turkey, canned lentil/bean soups, canned chili, canned ham/pork, Vienna sausages, canned stew, canned beans, shelf-stable tofu,  beef/turkey jerky, peanut butter, canned nuts
  • Milk, Yogurt, Cheese—Powdered dried milk or canned evaporated milk, boxed rice or soy milk, process cheese, snack cup pudding, instant cocoa*
  • Other Important Items—Manual can/bottle opener, resealable plastic bags, paper plates, disposable eating utensils, trash bags, waterproof matches or fire starter

 Don’t forget about your pets too!