By Eric Barker
April 7, 2014

Yes, It’s This Simple

Many of the fixes for our problems aren’t complex — something that’s clear in the things I recommend people do every day.

What’s a scientifically validated way to get smarter, happier, healthier and calmer?

Stop reading this right now and go for a walk.

It’s that simple.

Here’s why.

Exercise Powers the Body — and the Mind

They used to say you don’t grow new brain cells. They were wrong.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

What really feeds those baby brain cells? Hitting the gym.

A three-month exercise regimen increased blood flow to the part of your brain focused on memory and learning by 30%.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

The Dumb Jock Is a Myth

Being in good shape increases your ability to learn. After exercise, people pick up new vocabulary words 20% faster.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

Indeed, in a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF.

Want to be more creative? Sweating for about a half hour on the treadmill notably increases cognitive flexibility.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

Fine, you can see differences on an MRI and with nerdy tests. Does it make a difference in the real world?

Yes.

Office workers who exercised at lunch were more productive, less stressed and had more energy.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

That super-productive co-worker who runs every day might not exercise because he has energy — he might have energy because he exercises.

While it might not make you the smartest person in the world, among the many ways to increase intelligence, exercise stands out.

Sweating Increases Smiling

Can’t make it simpler than this: Research from Duke University shows exercise is as effective as antidepressants in treating depression.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

It also reduces anxiety.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

What if you’re not depressed or anxious? Stay sedentary and you’re 1.5 times more likely to eventually become depressed.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

Still not convinced? People who exercise are, across the board, mentally healthier: less depression, anger, stress and distrust.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

O.K., O.K. — How Much Do I Need to Do?

What’s optimal? Exercise six days a week, 45 minutes to an hour per day.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

Stop rolling your eyes. It’s not all or nothing.

Regarding body health and brain health, experts and neuroscientists agree: “A little is good, and more is better.”

Here’s something proved to make you smarter, healthier and happier. What could be a better investment of your time?

You might ask: If it’s obviously so great, why don’t we all do it?

Because habits and social influences are much more powerful than we think.

And, in general, we don’t do what makes us happy — we do what’s easy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What’s the best first step? Go here.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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