Is it a myth or a fact: Bigger muscles mean a bigger brain

Surprising facts show that certain kinds of exercise not only build muscles, strength and endurance.

It's always been a disparaging remark -- "he's all brawn and no brain" -- asserting that someone is physically strong but not very intelligent. Science has not found a linkage between physical strength and stupidity. In fact, it's just the opposite. And the story begins with teenagers at the Naperville Central High School in Illinois and their physical education teacher, Paul Zientarski.

Almost a decade ago ago Zientarski implemented a phys ed program that required students to exercise and run a mile every day wearing heart rate monitors. The workout pushed their pulse rates into the "cardio target zone" for 20 to 30 minutes daily. Surprisingly, academic test scores improved, those who had trouble with math and reading improved as much as two grade levels and the students gained in strength and endurance. The linkage between the rather intense phys ed curriculum and the students' cognitive abilities -- their "smartness" -- has been validated by scientists like psychiatrist Dr. John Ratey of Harvard Medical School. His book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" explains how exercise releases various neurotransmitters and chemicals that cause new brain cells to grow and interconnect. Neuroscientists now agree that the brain grows through exercise and that growth translates to better cognitive abilities. Further, a group at PE4Life.org has now advocated a strong phys ed program across 39 states reaching nearly 3,000 schools and over 2.2 million children.

So much for the "all brawn, no brain" insult. Myth busted!

Are you interested in growing your brain along with your brawn? Here's what you'll need to do.

Multiply your body weight by eight. That gives you an approximation of how many calories you need to burn each week.

Calculate your maximum heart rate. For men, it's roughly 220 less your age. For women it's about 206 less 88 percent of your age.

Calculate your exercise target heart rate. That's about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Now, get busy five or preferably six days each week! Find an exercise routine that pushes your pulse to between 75 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes each day.

Do you find it tough to find motivation to work out? We might blame our low level of enthusiasm on lack of time, lack of facilities or even "male menopause." Not to worry, there are ways to put exercise into your daily agenda. One of the best is to make the daily workout a social event. Find a friend or neighbor who'd like to join you.

New habits take about a month to become ingrained and exercise is no exception. It's important to pick exercises you enjoy doing and that won't become boring. You can change the routine so it remains fresh and interesting. For example, if you are tired of jogging or tread-milling, consider getting out to play tennis or handball or go swimming.

Incidentally, studies have not shown that strength training for men or women produces brain growth. While lifting weights and other resistance training methods build muscle -- which is a good thing -- that form of exercise doesn't deliver the brain-enhancing results that sustained cardio workouts do.

So let's revise the old insult. Science now tells us that with the proper kind of exercise we can be "all brawn and a great big brain."

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