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TedTalk: Wendy Suzuki and the brain-changing benefits of exercise

ByTia Byer

Feb 25, 2020

Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no denying the health benefits of regular exercise. Be it to lose weight, lower cholesterol or simply to clear the mind, physical activity can work wonders. Indeed for neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, exercise changed not only her life, but also her brain chemistry. In a 2019 TED talk, Professor Suzuki discusses how exercise leads to a brain-changing and life-long boost in both mood and memory.

According to NYU Professor of Neural Science and Psychology, Wendy Suzuki, “exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain”. She states that simply moving your body has “an immediate, positive benefit for your brain, including your mood and your focus”. Exercise also has a prolonged effect on the brain and “protects your brain from different conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia”.

Despite being a full professor of neural science, Wendy completely switched her research program when she discovered the rewards of getting physically fit. Wendy claims, “I was actually at the height of all the memory work that I was doing — data was pouring in, I was becoming known in my field for all of this memory work.” Accomplishments aside, Wendy confesses: “I didn’t move my body at all [and] I had gained 25 pounds [and] … I was actually miserable.”

In a mission to change the entire trajectory of her life, Wendy explains how she vowed to lead a happier, healthier and more focussed reality by implementing a regular exercise program. She said: “all that exercise that I had included and added to my life was changing my brain.”  Wendy added, “My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.”

Long term effects include protecting the brain against neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. According to the TED talk exercise means that, “you’re going to create the strongest, biggest hippocampus and prefrontal cortex so it takes longer for these diseases to actually have an effect.” Indeed studies show that exercising is invaluable to both immediate and prolonged health. The NHS states: “Exercise is the miracle cure [leading to] a 30% lower risk of early death,” and recommended partaking approximately 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

Perhaps the most impressive scientific discovery of Wendy Suzuki’s are the lifestyle benefits of taking care of your physical and, with it, mental wellbeing. She closes the TED talk with the following: “bringing exercise in your life will not only give you a happier, more protective life today, but it will protect your brain from incurable diseases, and in this way it will change the trajectory of your life for the better.” This is advice we could, and should, take heed from. Let’s start leading a better life; one physical activity at a time.

Image: TEDxOrlando Team via Flickr.com