When Maya DiRado won the 400 IM at the Olympic Trials, the Stanford Swimmer didn’t just turn heads because she was fast (she was) or beautiful (she is), but also because the announcer calling her event revealed that at age 15, she had a perfect math SAT score! In fact, swimmers such as star freestyler Katie Ledecky (also a Stanford swimmer, and a 3.99 GPA) and breastroker Katie Meili (from Columbia, now law student at Georgetown), Josh Prenot the breaststroker (and Berkeley physics major) as well as countless others, have both speed in the pool and speedy brain processing. Their secret weapon for competitive speed: their brain power! And it’s how they train their brain that makes it so intriguing.
Exercise has been proven to benefit our heart, our sex life, increase muscle power, shape our shape, and prevent all manners of diseases from hypertension to diabetes to PMS to depression. But now, medical research states that steady exercise improves brain power. While a basic recommendation for fitness includes stretching, getting your heart rate up, and building strength, there are reasons to design your exercise regimen to get the health benefits you want, and that your gyno says you need. And, swimming is just that prescription!
A study published in the Journal of Physiology with lead researcher Miriam Nokia reports that certain types of exercising produce a special protein (BDNF) that protects your brain neuron cells. These brain neuron cells are responsible for both making and preserving memories, which can then help stimulate the production of brain chemicals such as noradrenaline and dopamine, as well as others, in order to modulate nerve signals. By preserving these brain neuron cells, the BDNF makes the brain stronger and more efficient.
Studies show that long and steady aerobic exercise helps most with building up brain power. It was even studied to see if you could remember better after exercising rather than no exercise, and in humans, they could! So what kind of exercise would should you try to incorporate? And for how long? Hint: We’ve already alluded to it above. Swimming! Swimming lengths up and down a pool is a great example of a long an steady aerobic exercise, perfect to strengthen that big thinker upstairs. Researchers at Harvard also recommend exercising ~150 minutes per week (which averages out to a little over 20 minutes of exercise per day--you could also accomplish 150 minutes by exercising 30 minutes a day for 5 days, and take 2 days off). There are many ways you can mix and match to get in those 150 minutes every week, it’s just a matter of making a plan and following through. So, get out your goggles, get in that pool, and boost your brain power!