7 Ways Exercise Makes You Smarter

1. Regular Exercise Boosts Your Decision-Making Skills

Your brain needs oxygen to do its thang, and women who exercise have more oxygen flowing through their brains’ anterior frontal regions (the region involved with both decision making and memory retention), says a new Psychophysiology study finding that women who exercise outperform their peers on difficult cognitive tasks.

2. Sports Make You a Better Map Reader

Having to think through how your body will move through space—whether it’s around your opponents, across a field, or into the air—improves your ability to perform mental rotations (knowing what a certain shape or item would look like if you flipped or rotated it), according to a 2013 review from the Institute of Sport Science at the University of Hildesheim in Germany. This could make you better at reading maps, navigating through congested traffic, and putting together Ikea furniture.

3. Strength Training Strengthens Your Focus

Strength training—granted you’re doing it right—takes a lot of focus. You need to be mindful of your form while ignoring the smelly, grunting guy next to you. That’s why a Journal of Applied Physiology review of more than 100 studies found that the more you perform focused strength workouts, the more you’re able to avoid distractions outside the gym. Take that, noisy cubicle neighbor.

4. Endurance Exercise Helps You Stick with Your Plans

When you hit the road for a long run, you’re not just improving your body’s ability to sustain long, grueling tasks. You’re also training your mind, according to the same Journal of Applied Physiology review. After all, when you’re running or biking for an hour or more, you’re not so much fighting physical fatigue as you’re fighting your mind saying, “Hey, let’s do something else.” The ability to overcome that pull is critical to multitasking on the job and sticking with long-term plans and goals, according to researchers.

5. Sprinting Improves Your Memory

Pick up the pace and become a better learner: In one Neurobiology of Learning and Memory study, people learned vocabulary words 20 percent faster after they performed high-impact sprints than after they completed low-impact running. 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.

6. Yoga Helps You Process Info Faster

A single 20-minute bout of yoga improved college students’ ability to quickly and accurately process information, according to a study from the University of Illinois. And get this: It only took 30 minutes for the brain-boosting benefits to kick in.

7. Exercise Helps You Pick Up Your Productivity

When you’re swamped, it can be hard to close your computer and hit the gym. But according to one International Journal of Workplace Health Management study, people are still 23 percent more productive on days they exercise compared to days they don’t. Again, exercise increases the amount of oxygen sent to the brain, increasing your energy and making you sharper.

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