One saying I used to hear growing up was that weightlifters were meatheads, meaning they were not that smart. I lifted weights throughout college, and the notion that weightlifters were dumb bothered me. I knew I wasn’t dumb and many of the people I worked out with, or met in my gym, were engineers, attorneys, dentists or studying to be. For the past year I’ve been doing research for my next book on good thinking habits. This forced me to delve into the study of the brain. One of those areas is called neurogenesis and deals with the birth of brain cells (neurons). What I found in my research caught me by complete surprise and it’s this: weightlifting actually makes you smarter. So I thought I’d share some of that research as it relates to weightlifting and neurogenesis.
Neural stem cells (new brain cells) are born in the hippocampus and either divide into neural cells or glial cells (support cells for neurons). Neural cells are sent from the hippocampus to the dendrite gyrus, which acts like a traffic cop, ordering them to go to specific regions of the brain. Voluntary exercise increases the number of neural stem cells created by the hippocampus.
Here’s how it works. Exercise, such as lifting weights or any cardio (jogging, stair master, elliptical, biking etc.), delivers blood-soaked oxygen to the brain. The more you exercise, the higher the blood flow. This increased blood flow then feeds the brain with more glucose (brain fuel) and oxygen (which removes free radicals from the brain like a sponge, in effect cleaning the brain). Exercise also increases the production of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which takes place inside the hippocampus. BDNF is like miracle grow for the brain, helping it give birth to more neural cells and also helps increase in size, existing neural cells. In effect, exercise grows your brain by creating new brain cells and growing existing brain cells.
A neuron has one axon and multiple dendrites. An axon of one neuron connects with the dendrites of other neurons. This is called a synapse. There is a direct correlation between the number of axons and synapses an individual has and their intelligence. Anything that increases the number of axons and synapses, therefore, increases intelligence. Muscle movement increases the growth of axons. Lifting weights, therefore, increases the growth of axons, which helps contribute to increased synaptic activity.
People who lift weights are not meatheads after all. They are actually smarter than the average person. So, if you want to lift your IQ, start lifting weights.