The verdict is in: Exercise boosts brain power.
Decades of research has shown clearly that aerobic exercise boosts the production of chemical messengers in the brain that facilitate the growth of and connections between neurons. This, in turn, translates to sharper thinking and improved mood.
In recommending exercise to my patients, one of the most common questions I'm asked is what type of exercise to do and how to do it. My answer: rhythmic interval running.
Step 1: Start Low and Go Slow
Begin by warming up with a steady jog at a comfortable pace. With a heart rate monitor your warm up pace can be estimated by the formula 180 - (Age + 30). So, a 40-year-old in otherwise good health would warm up at a heart rate of approximately 110 beats per minute. Continue at this pace for a minimum of 15 minutes.
Step 2: Step to the Beat
Next, gradually pick up the pace of your run so that you are running at approximately 160-180 steps/minute. If you're using a metronome, set it to 80-90 and time every other foot strike to the beat. Or if your using Podrunner, select a track in the range of 160-180 beat per minute and adjust your footstrikes to the beat. Try to keep your heart rate at 30 beats/min higher than your warm up rate. (For our 40-year old in the previous step, the baseline rate would now be 130 bpm) We'll refer to this as your baseline heart rate (BHR). Continue for 5-10 minutes.
Step 3: Pyramid Intervals
Here's where things get really interesting. Continuing at the same baseline beat of 160-180 step/min, run faster by leaning slightly forward and lengthening your stride. Run until your heart rate is 15 beats higher than your BHR. Then slow to a comfortable walk. Continue walking until your heart rate falls to BHR, then pick up the pace again and run until your monitor reads 20 beats higher than your BHR. Talk another walk break until your reach your BHR. Repeat once more until your heart rate is 25 beats higher than your BHR. Now descend in the opposite way: BHR to 20, walk, BHR to 15, walk.
Step 4: Walk It Down
Congratulations! You've completed your pyramid interval run. For the next 10 minutes, gradually slow your run from your BHR down to a comfortable walk. The goal of this step is to gradually reduce your heart rate, sometimes referred to as the "bleed", from BHR to a comfortable warm-down rate.
This workout requires you to keep pace with the prescribed tempo of 160-180 steps/min while at the same time sequentially increasing your heart rate. The combination of the tempo run with a controlled, step-wise increase in interval intensity produces a hypnotic yet energizing effect that will boost your brain power and leave you looking forward to the next pyramid run. See for yourself...