We can all attest that we are generally more productive after starting off our day with some physical activity, but is working out actually making us smarter or is it just some type of placebo effect?

That's the question posed by a group of researchers at Florida State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are looking into. While there is no placebo for exercising, researchers are trying to counter this problem by measuring people's expectations of what exercise will do to their thinking. For this study, researchers took 171 people and asked half of them to estimate how much how much a stretching and toning program performed three times a week might improve various measures of thinking. The other half was asked the same question pertaining to a walking program.

Findings showed that the majority of participants believed that stretching and toning would be more beneficial than walking, which is actually the opposite according to scientific studies. In other words, if expectations had been driving the improvements in cognition seen in studies after exercise then people should have expected walking to be more beneficial for thinking than stretching. This implies that changes in the brain and thinking after exercise are physiologically genuine, suggesting that exercise really does change the brain and may improve thinking.

[New York Times]

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