I first heard it when I was studying for the bar exam. My law school asked some young lawyers recently admitted to practice to come to one of our exam prep sessions to talk to us about what taking the exam was like and give us some advice on what we could do to have a good bar exam experience – if there is such a thing.
One of the then-young men who spoke to us insisted that we all needed to take up a sport and practice it religiously several times a week during the couple of months leading up to the exam. He told us that physical exercise was absolutely necessary to keep us mentally sharp. While it seemed counter-intuitive to make time for anything that didn’t involve test prep, he was so earnest and convincing that I took his advice. (He didn’t end up as a well-known Alabama trial lawyer for nothing!) I enrolled in a ballet course and stuck with it twice a week until after the exam was over and we got our results. (I passed! Hard to believe that was over 30 years ago.)
Now, it turns out, science has proven my adviser right. Although he couldn’t really explain why exercise was so important for aspiring lawyers preparing for the bar exam, a recent article in the New York Times entitled How Exercise Fuels the Brain lays it all out, and it makes perfect sense.
According to the article, the brain runs on not only glucose, which is absorbed from the bloodstream, but is also able to store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen for future use. The author refers to it as a form of “carbohydrate loading.” And, as with many other things, it’s “use it or lose it”. Because exercise takes lots of energy, test animals which engaged in strenuous exercise frequently increased substantially the amount of glycogen reserves regularly built up in the brain after exercise. Animals that exercised infrequently did not.
While scientists are currently unable to test this on humans, it makes perfect sense. All of us tend to feel mentally sharper when we are well rested and get a reasonable amount of exercise. Now we most likely know why. And it’s not just our imagination.
As winter turns to spring, looks like we could all improve our mental acuity by starting a new exercise routine or stepping our current one up a notch. And what lawyer couldn’t put a little more brainpower to good use?