"Athletes and people who exercise not only have better bods — they have better brains too, a host of studies have now firmly established."
"Exercisers learn faster, remember more, think clearer and bounce back more easily from brain injuries such as a stroke. They are also less prone to depression and age-related cognitive decline."
I've always bristled at the stereotype of the "dumb jock." Sure, there is seemingly no shortage of athletes who come across as dolts. But I've never been convinced that the percentage of "slow" people is any higher in sports than it is in society at large. A lot of athletes don't place high value on the intellectual pursuits, but that's not necessarily the byproduct of their having lower levels of intelligence. Plenty of athletes have above average intelligence, but just haven't bothered to develop their intellects. And that shouldn't be too surprising, since their physical prowess -- rather than their intellectual prowess -- has been the source of their athletic success (don't confuse lack of intellectual prowess with lack of mental acuity -- being able to make quick, smart decisions is an essential component of being a successful athlete).
And let's not forget that scores of athletes do, in fact, develop their intellects. Ivy League institutions compete in NCAA Division I, but don't offer athletic scholarships. Their student athletes are notoriously bright/good students. And the service academies don't give their athletes any breaks with regard to their studies, and the curricua at the service academies would make most college students' heads spin (the student athletes at Army, Navy, and the Air Force Academy usually don't have professional sports in their futures, but they truly are the creme de la creme in terms of representing the student athlete ideal). And don't forget, Division III has no shortage of elite, small, private institutions which field highly competitive athletic teams comprised of good students (Johns Hopkins, Williams, Bowdoin, Chicago, Washington U., MIT, Cal Tech, NYU, Emory, Tufts, Wesleyan, Colby, Swarthmore, Middlebury, Oberlin, Carleton, Amherst, Occidental, Bates, Washington & Lee, etc. ...).
What's more, it's been my experience that involvement in athletics and the regular performance of strenuous physical exercise has always seemed to make me more mentally astute and alert. Essentially, when I'm physically fit, I feel more mentally fit.
The ancient Greeks seemed to understand as much: they gave us the credo, "of sound mind and sound body." Thomas Jefferson had that credo in mind when he mandated daily physical activity for students at the University of Virginia. And the service academies require participation in some kind of regular physical activity: if a student isn't a participant in intercollegiate athletics, he or she has to participate in intermural athletics.
It's a good thing that science is finally coming around to discovering what the Greeks knew 2500 years ago. Advances in medicine and nutrition have helped advance life expectancy for people in the developed world. But as our society continues to age -- and as the enormous baby boom generation (who, ironically, came of age in 60's) advances into their 60's -- science and medicine's continued understanding of the connection between physical activity and brain function will become an increasingly vital component in advancing the health and well being of our society.