April 08, 2019
Anyone who has remained consistent in a fitness routine for an extended period of time knows, intuitively at least, that the benefits of exercise extend far beyond the physical. But explaining this to a person looking in from the outside has been nearly impossible in past generations—the only visually attributable trait directly linked to exercise has been better physique, until now at least. Science has concluded that there is a neurochemical response to exercise. This may be a no-brainer (pun intended) given it is the brain that sends signals to the muscles to work. But what if I told you exercise will make you smarter and more emotionally connected as well—would that spark your interest?
In a Ted Talk, neuroscientist and professor, Dr. Wendy Suzuki stated, “Exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today.” The regions of the brain active in memory retrieval and emotional recall, the Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex, are strengthened by exercise and made less vulnerable to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Dr. Suzuki goes on to explain the immediate benefits of an exercise session—better focus and memory—and the long-term advantages that are experienced after remaining consistent in an exercise regimen over time. The CrossFit Journal released an article called, Training and the Brain, written by Chris Cooper, touching on the very same topic. “When we move, we secrete a neurotrophin called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF, which helps make neural connections stronger,” writes Cooper, citing Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, a book written by Dr. John Ratey. Dr. Ratey dubbed this neurotrophin as “the miracle grow for brains.”
What does this mean for CrossFitters and our sport? Well, first and foremost, all training methodologies are not created equal. While there are benefits to be gained from a wide variety of fitness programs, there are no current methodologies that come close to the effectiveness of CrossFit in targeting all aspects of strength, metabolic conditioning, and mobility. CrossFit’s constantly varied functional fitness performed at high intensity model targets key areas of the body that in turn most improve brain functions such as the ones mentioned above, and coordination, a function controlled by the Cerebellum. The Cerebellum is the area of the brain responsible for balance, and is involved with memory, learning ability, social skills, and focus. Every time an exercise activates a person’s core, it also activates their Cerebellum; exercise, just like reading, is directly linked to mental acuity.
CrossFit’s emphasis of constantly varied functional movements is like the Rubik's Cube of exercise, as compared to your standard workout routines, which could be compared to the card game Memory. Dr. Ratey also stated that, “If you are [un]coordinated physically, some things are going to be out of whack intellectually and emotionally as well.” In CrossFit we refer to all of our members as athletes, and we do this because our workouts train us not only to be strong and conditioned, but also coordinated, agile, and quick. Doing some form of exercise is certainly better than nothing at all, but the more comprehensive the program, the more beneficial—and to date, CrossFit is the most comprehensive of them all!
Written by Coach David Carlson
For more in depth discussion of this topic, see Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s Ted Talk, “The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise, and Chris Cooper’s article in the CrossFit Journal, “Training the Brain.”