Intelligence for Your Life by David Bardsley

Increasing your cognitive ability requires two things:

  1. Increase the Number of Neurons [neurogenesis]. Humans have more than 100 billion neurons and each brain cell has up to 10,000 connections with other neurons (you do the math). Unfortunately, we lose between 70 and 90 thousand a day. That is about one every second. We need to grow more new brain cells.

  2. Increase and Balance the Neurotransmitters. These are chemicals produced by the brain itself which facilitate the transfer of the electrical stimulus from one brain cell to another. They are largely responsible for our brain processing speed and determine our mood, feelings, and temperament.

Fortunately, both of these can be accomplished at the same time.  Study after study has repeatedly shown there is only one known modality that will stimulate the growth of new neurons and balance all 60 of the known neurotransmitters. It is not a drug or medical treatment.  It is --- Vigorous Physical Activity.  Not just any amount or type of physical activity but a degree of intensity that reaches a specific threshold.

Although there are many types of exercise, research has so far shown that only aerobic, anaerobic and high-intensity resistance training will promote neurogenesis and balance the neurotransmitters.

The key indicator is heart rate. We need to keep our heart rate in the target zone during our daily 30 minutes of exercise.

The following formula uses Age and Resting Heart Rate [RHR] to determine an effective heart rate range, or your Target Heart Rate [THR]. To determine your RHR, check your pulse before getting out of bed for 3 consecutive days and then average the results.

The following example is for a 63-year-old with an RHR of 54.  Substitute your Age and RHR.

220 – 63 = 157 = MHR [maximum heart rate]

157 [MHR] – 54 [RHR] = 103 x 60% [intensity] = 62

62 + 54 [RHR] = 116 Lower Limit of THR

157 [MHR] – 54 [RHR] = 103 x 80% [intensity] = 82

82 + 54 [RHR] = 136 Upper Limit THR

THR = between 116 and 136 beats per minute



Obtain a heart monitor. Determine your target heart range. Wear the monitor every day for 1 week to see your heart fluctuations; thereafter only during exercise.

Schedule time. Make the commitment.  30 minutes, 3 days a week. If you schedule the day and time for exercise your chances of success increase dramatically. DO NOT deprive yourself of sleep to fit the activity into your busy schedule. We are all busy; you will probably have to give up something you are currently doing to create the time.

Choose activities. Get help, learn how to perform the activity correctly. Take a clinic or at least read a book on the activity. Amazon has 420 books on running, for beginners. Does not have to be the same exercise each day.

Find friends. Join a group. Support is crucial. A long-term study divided exercisers into 4 groups.Competitors – compete against other athletes or the clock. Exercisers – force themselves to exercise because they know it is beneficial mentally and physically. Enthusiasts – enjoy how their body feels during the activity or enjoy the environment in which they are exercising. Socializer – participates in the activity mainly for the social contact.  Studies show the competitors and exercisers fall by the wayside; it is the enthusiasts and socializers who do it for a long time or a lifetime.

Clothing & equipment. Buy good quality equipment. You will enjoy the activity more. Clothing is equipment. It will allow you to stay warm and dry or cool and dry, outdoors, in any climatic condition.

Increase to 5 workouts per week. The bad news is that the neurochemicals you increased will return to their previous levels within 24 hours. The good news is that the new neurons you created will hopefully last you a lifetime.

Retest.  Find a cognitive test, then take it before you start your exercise program and repeat at 3 or 4-month intervals. You should see an improvement. This will encourage you to continue until physical activity becomes an integral part of your daily life. Success begets success.

The “Use it or Lose it” principle has been applied to mental abilities for decades. Actively engaging our brains is certainly important but the latest research has shown that vigorous physical activity that is the most effective method of boosting our intellectual abilities and preventing cognitive decline. What it does for your physical health is a secondary benefit, an added bonus, it is what it does for your mental ability that is truly remarkable.

Intelligence for your life:  VIGOROUS PHYSICAL EXERCISE

Remember, you can access a year of free self-scored memory tests on this website! 

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