Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keeping your arms straight, bring them forward and up until your upper arms are in line with your ears (A). Return to standing, then lift your right knee to hip height as you sweep your arms down across your body until the back of your left hand is outside your right knee (B). Return to standing and repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Engage your abs and, keeping your body in a nice straight line, climb one hand at a time up to a plank position from your hands. Place your hands right below your shoulders, but outside your chest as you climb up. Try to wiggle your hips as little as possible as you climb and don’t let your butt go up in the air or your hips sag toward the ground as you climb up.
Now that those muscles are uncovered and ready to work on, it’ll be easier for you to see your progress, as the muscles will start to show up through the thinner layer of body fat. Arms are made up of two different muscles — the biceps in the front, and the triceps at the back. The main one to target when toning arms up is the tricep, but working out the bicep at the same time will lend your arms a more balanced structure.
Get in plank position with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart (A). Lower your chest as close to the floor as you can. Holding that position, lift your right knee to the outside of your right elbow (B). Return to plank position, then push back up to start; repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting for 30 seconds between sets.
Kick your leg up as close to your elbow as you can and then lower it back down and place your foot back on the ground. Once your foot is back down, repeat the push up then kick the other leg out to the side toward your elbow. Keep your leg as straight as you can as you kick it out. Place your foot back and repeat the push up before repeating on the first side.
Emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, How low can you go?” says Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. He wanted to test how effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared to the typical 50-minute bout. The micro-workout he devised consists of three exhausting 20-second intervals of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he pitted the short workout against the standard one to see which was better. To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Gibala says. (For more on the 1-minute workout read this.)
Exhale as you raise your body back to the starting position. Do this gently and slowly so you do not hyperextend your shoulders. Be sure to retract your shoulder blades and keep your shoulders square and stabilized (not rolled forward or up). As soon as it is difficult to hold your shoulders still and pulled back, stop the range of motion. This is 1 rep. Repeat this exercise for 2 sets of 10 reps. You should feel your tricep muscles working after 2 sets of this exercise.
You've cut your cancer risk. In a study of more than 14,800 women, those who had the highest levels of aerobic fitness were 55 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than those who were sedentary. Women considered moderately fit had about a 33 percent lower risk of developing the disease. Exercise may also help protect against endometrial, lung, and ovarian cancer, researchers say.
If you're ready to move on from classic Bulgarian split squats, Swan's amped-up variation gets your upper body in on the action for a true total-body exercise. "This combination move works your legs, butt, chest, back, arms, and core," she says. "And it not only hits all the major muscle groups—it also lets you work on balance." Give it a shot and you'll see why.