Exercising smarter

Hotter body, smarter cerebrum. Before you head to the gym, here are seven fascinating insights from science to help motivate you and get more from your exercise

1. Exercise boosts IQ
It’s thought that the extra blood supply to the brain promotes the growth of neurons and encourages the release of certain neurotransmitters and growth hormones that are crucial to the brain’s overall health. Also, during high-intensity running, the brain's levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein that promotes growth and survival of your brain's nerve cells), dopamine, and epinephrine all increase, which researchers believe may be behind the memory boost.

2. The psychology of workout music
Theories claim that music can prevent exercisers from focusing on the specific physical sensations of fatigue and, also, when music travels down our auditory pathways to the supplementary motor area where, it may help with the process of timing our actions.

Some studies suggest that applying a rhythmic component to exercise sessions may help clients with the coordination of motor skills, large and small.

4. Is stretching before and after exercise necessary?
We’re often told that stretching our muscles is the best way to avoid aching limbs the following day or injuries during sport. But is this true?

Two studies have both pointed towards an answer: not really. In an article by Claudia Hammond, Rob Herbert from the George Institute in Australia – the author of one of the two reviews – told us that if you enjoy stretching before exercise, you’re fine to carry on, but it probably won't help much. All the evidence points towards little difference in muscle recovery or injury prevention.

5. Do special running shoes prevent injury?
Myth! Surprisingly, even the evidence that running on hard surfaces leads to more injuries is weak. But footwear manufacturers will still try to make shoes with claims of better support and injury prevention.

6. Will we ever run 100m in under nine seconds?
For most runners, speed is largely determined by how much force they can apply when their foot is on the ground, so there are two options for increasing speed; hit the ground harder or exert the same force for a longer period. Studies show that the calf muscles more than any other determine the amount of force that runners apply to the ground.

7. Does exercise really help with depression?
The best evidence for the effect of exercise on mood comes from one of the largest meta-analyses of data analysed by Cochrane. They looked at data from 30 trials in countries as diverse as Thailand, Denmark and Australia and came to the conclusion that on the whole exercise might have benefits for people suffering from depression, but the effect is very, very small. It’s certainly not the panacea some claim it to be.

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