The ball arced up against a slate grey November sky, tumbling end-over-end rather than the tight spirals that you’ll see from NFL punters. It was super high, but from the top of its arc, I could tell it would fall short.

Coach had taught me to make a decision about catching the ball, calling a fair catch, or backing off by the time the it reached its zenith. So, I decided to back off. I was backpedaling away quickly to avoid it hitting me when the punt landed and, like so many of those end-over-end kicks do, it took a crazy bounce and rocketed right at my chest. There was no way to avoid the ball without muffing it, so I made the split-second decision to catch the caroming bounce.

The last thing I remember seeing is the top of a red helmet with a blue stripe as the gunner’s perfectly timed hit savagely smashed my facemask into my nose and chin and snapped my head back into last week. I was in flight for what seemed like several seconds, nearly completing a backflip, and slamming the back of my head into the frozen ground. I faintly remember an exploding supernova of exquisite pain deep inside my cranium. And then nothing.

My next memory is of an ER doc shining his pencil flashlight into my eyes and telling my dad that I had a concussion. My head felt like an overfilled water balloon with a cartoon hippo sitting on it, bouncing up and down in time with each blinding, pulsing throb. That was my first diagnosed concussion. It was Thanksgiving Day of 1982, my sophomore year in high school.

Too many bumps on the head…

Over the ensuing decades, it has been my observation and conclusion that due to that concussion, and others that I’ve suffered, my cognitive function and capacity have been impaired, particularly the ability to fend off distraction and to concentrate on important tasks and projects, but also with quirky short-term memory outages.

I’ve worked out my whole adult life and have always been fascinated by not only the science of exercise and human performance, but also cognitive performance. My deep interest in the effects and outcomes of exercise, coupled with my experience primarily working with clients in midlife and older, have taught me the profound benefits that exercise confers on our brains.

The cognitive benefits of exercise are profound.

It’s safe to say that what’s good for the body is just as beneficial for the brain. That’s encouraging!

However, the corollary to that is what’s bad for the body is just as damaging to the brain, maybe even more so. 

The cognitive dividends of regular exercise are simply remarkable, so extensive and so profound that I thought to expound on the subject through a series of posts, sharing these seemingly miraculous benefits with you.

Thus, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of essays that will delve more deeply into how exercise can help to strengthen our brains as much as our bodies.

We’ll look at how…

  1. Exercise improves our ability to concentrate, to intensively and productively focus on challenging tasks and concepts.
  2. It increases the speed at which we think and learn.
  3. It makes us more mentally nimble and adaptable, facilitating creativity and flexibility of thought.
  4. Not only will it improve our mood, making us happier in the short term, but practiced regularly over many years, exercise improves our sense of contentment and peace of mind.
  5. It makes us more emotionally resilient, able to weather the ups and downs of life with more equanimity.
  6. It helps us develop more self-control.
  7. Exercise can ameliorate clinical anxiety and depression, even helping many come off powerfully psychoactive drugs.
  8. Not surprisingly, it boosts our energy, can generate feelings of enthusiasm, gratitude, and good will, and will inspire us to be more playful and fun loving.
  9. It improves our sleep quality, the benefits of which are incalculable.
  10. Exercise increases our self-esteem, making us feel more attractive and confident, and increases our libido.
  11. And finally, improves and preserves our short and long term memory.

That’s a pretty long list, huh? Well, the positive effects that exercise confers are so numerous, that I’ve actually trimmed it down by at least half a dozen other bullets.

Whatever your current state of memory and cognition, whether you’ve suffered as many bumps on the head as I have, or you’re simply concerned about preserving all your faculties, stay tuned for more on this fascinating subject.

Look for my next post, titled, “Wait… what??? Oh, sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

If you find any of this compelling, it would be a huge help to us for you to share it with your friends and loved ones. Jules and I believe there are so many more folks who we could help. We are forever grateful for your support in helping us to reach a wider audience. There are social share buttons below that make it easy to do so through social media.

Thanks so much for your support!

Be strong and have fun!

Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.