Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Exercise Is Just For Jocks

Not so fast. Swedish researchers have found significant results that link cardiovascular fitness in mid to late teens to increased brain power and greater socioeconomic status in adulthood. The release of these studies come at a crucial time, especially for us Americans, as we see a decline in physical education programs at the junior high and high school levels.

"We believe the present results provide scientific support for educational policies to maintain or increase physical education in school curricula as a means to stem the growing trend toward a sedentary lifestyle, which is accompanied by an increased risk for diseases and perhaps intellectual and academic underachievement," write researchers Maria Aberg and colleagues of the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. - WebMD

The study was performed on over one million Swedish men who were enlisted in the military. All of the men were born between 1950 and 1976 and assessed in physical fitness and intelligence tests at the time of their enlistment. The studies linked higher scores on cardiovascular fitness tests to equally impressive marks in cognitive performance.

Perhaps the most intriguing find in this study lies in the data supporting that changes in cardiovascular fitness, not muscular strength, occurring between 15 and 18 years of age were the greatest predictors of intellectual performance. At the age of 18, cardiovascular fitness levels seemed to provide an accurate glimpse into the future of subjects, revealing higher fitness levels to be linked with greater academic achievements and higher social status later in life.

Does this mean to become the next Bill Gates you should hit the cardio in grade school and not stop until you sell your company for billions? It might help, but there is a mental aspect of these results that I feel could easily be over looked. Let's look at the basic fact that cardiovascular fitness doesn't just increase all of the sudden. One day you don't go to bed with the heart efficiency of child and wake up with Lance Armstrong-like cardiovascular strength. Improving your fitness level takes work. Being healthy takes dedication, discipline and a concern for one's own well being. A desire to take care of one's body, improve its function and performance is likely the mark of someone who holds character traits sure to be indicators of a successful person.

What does it take to be a successful student and professional? Desire, goal setting, planning and dedication. If you are passionate about what you are doing, set goals for yourself, plan on how you will reach those goals and dedicate the time necessary to see that plan through, you will be successful in any endeavor.
I am willing to bet these results are unearthing an underlying psychology to success more than anything. Do I believe there are some real physiological benefits to these results that are linked to improved mental function? No doubt those young adults who are engaged in regular physical activity are reaping some great benefits of exercise such as reduced feelings of stress, increased levels of serotonin and improved self image. These benefits will surely play an important positive role in the development of young adults.

The bottom line is this: exercise is good for you. It has physical, mental and emotional benefits. There are no acceptable reasons to neglect your personal well being. We often deprive our body of sleep, essential nutrients and sometimes choose to put practically poisonous substances in our body for enjoyment. I think we owe it to our body to take it for a jog every once in awhile. After all, it still works for us despite how poorly we treat it.

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