We all know that exercise is generally good for our bodies – it’s an obvious factor in obtaining or maintaining a healthy body. But did you know that it also plays a crucial role in keeping our brains healthy? There’s a lot of serious neuroscience behind all of this, but the bottom line is that exercise strengthens and promotes growth in the brain, which has all kinds of positive impact on things such as learning, attention, mental health (anxiety and depression, for example) and aging. If you believe the research (as I do), exercise has the potential to be a kind of wonder drug.
I just finished reading “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” by John J. Ratey, MD, and I am compelled by what he documents in terms of the potential power of exercise. Looking at the evidence, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t a significant role for exercise in helping us achieve long-term health and quality of life. And guess what: exercise is often a much less expensive option than prescription drugs, medical treatment or even psychiatric treatment.
There’s much to chew on in what Ratey presents, but let me highlight a few examples:
- In Naperville, Illinois, high school students participating in an early morning fitness class saw not only improvements in their weight and fitness levels, but also in their learning, as measured by their grades and scores on national tests.
- Individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, and addiction achieved significant positive benefit from regular exercise as a way to control these conditions.
- Children and adults with ADHD found exercise to have a significant impact on their ability to calm themselves and focus on tasks.
- Aging adults who exercised saw significant positive results on both their physical and cognitive health.
While I found most of the evidence to be compelling and reason enough to keep up with my own exercise routine, I was perhaps most intrigued by the potential impact of exercise on the quality of life as we age. We know that life expectancy is increasing, and I personally would like to be physically and mentally fit if I’m lucky enough to live into my 70s or beyond!
The question then is how can we motivate people to truly adopt and maintain an exercise program throughout their lives. As an industry, we’ve experimented with wellness programs, incentives, etc., with somewhat limited results. The question to address is how we motivate people to make exercise a key part of their health and financial security plan. In the meantime, I’m starting a personal experiment with my boys to have them run on the treadmill for a few minutes before school every day – perhaps it will help control their abundant energy and allow them to focus a bit better during the school day. Fingers crossed!