ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Wendy Suzuki - Neuroscientist, author
Wendy Suzuki is researching the science behind the extraordinary, life-changing effects that physical activity can have on the most important organ in your body: your brain.

Why you should listen

Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, an author, storyteller and fitness instructor. She received her undergraduate degree in physiology and human anatomy at the University of California, Berkeley in 1987 studying with Prof. Marion C. Diamond, a leader in the field of brain plasticity. She went on to earn her PhDin Neuroscience from U.C. San Diego in 1993 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health before accepting her faculty position at New York University in 1998.

Suzuki's major research interest continues to be brain plasticity. She is best known for her extensive work studying areas in the brain critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories. More recently, her work has focused on understanding how aerobic exercise can be used to improve learning, memory and higher cognitive abilities in humans. She is passionate about teaching, about exercise (intenSati) and about supporting and mentoring up and coming scientists.

More profile about the speaker
Wendy Suzuki | Speaker | TED.com
TEDWomen 2017

Wendy Suzuki: The brain-changing benefits of exercise

Filmed:
4,872,005 views

What's the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today? Exercise! says neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. Get inspired to go to the gym as Suzuki discusses the science of how working out boosts your mood and memory -- and protects your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
- Neuroscientist, author
Wendy Suzuki is researching the science behind the extraordinary, life-changing effects that physical activity can have on the most important organ in your body: your brain. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
What if I told you there was something
that you can do right now
0
920
4216
00:17
that would have an immediate,
positive benefit for your brain
1
5160
3696
00:20
including your mood and your focus?
2
8880
2680
00:24
And what if I told you that same thing
could actually last a long time
3
12160
5456
00:29
and protect your brain
from different conditions
4
17640
2656
00:32
like depression,
Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
5
20320
3936
00:36
Would you do it?
6
24280
1656
00:37
Yes!
7
25960
1216
00:39
I am talking about the powerful effects
of physical activity.
8
27200
4496
00:43
Simply moving your body,
9
31720
2416
00:46
has immediate, long-lasting
and protective benefits for your brain.
10
34160
5240
00:51
And that can last
for the rest of your life.
11
39960
2176
00:54
So what I want to do today
is tell you a story
12
42160
2376
00:56
about how I used my deep
understanding of neuroscience,
13
44560
4616
01:01
as a professor of neuroscience,
14
49200
1736
01:02
to essentially do an experiment on myself
15
50960
2816
01:05
in which I discovered
the science underlying
16
53800
3016
01:08
why exercise
is the most transformative thing
17
56840
3856
01:12
that you can do for your brain today.
18
60720
2000
01:15
Now, as a neuroscientist,
I know that our brains,
19
63360
3696
01:19
that is the thing in our head right now,
20
67080
3056
01:22
that is the most complex structure
known to humankind.
21
70160
5096
01:27
But it's one thing
to talk about the brain,
22
75280
2656
01:29
and it's another to see it.
23
77960
1440
01:31
So here is a real preserved human brain.
24
79880
2856
01:34
And it's going to illustrate two key areas
that we are going to talk about today.
25
82760
3856
01:38
The first is the prefrontal cortex,
right behind your forehead,
26
86640
4256
01:42
critical for things like decision-making,
focus, attention and your personality.
27
90920
5880
01:49
The second key area is located
in the temporal lobe, shown right here.
28
97360
4256
01:53
You have two temporal lobes in your brain,
the right and the left,
29
101640
3136
01:56
and deep in the temporal lobe
is a key structure
30
104800
2616
01:59
critical for your ability
31
107440
1696
02:01
to form and retain new long-term
memories for facts and events.
32
109160
4456
02:05
And that structure
is called the hippocampus.
33
113640
3136
02:08
So I've always been fascinated
with the hippocampus.
34
116800
3360
02:12
How could it be that an event
that lasts just a moment,
35
120640
4816
02:17
say, your first kiss,
36
125480
2216
02:19
or the moment your first child was born,
37
127720
3456
02:23
can form a memory
that has changed your brain,
38
131200
3056
02:26
that lasts an entire lifetime?
39
134280
2336
02:28
That's what I want to understand.
40
136640
2016
02:30
I wanted to start and record
the activity of individual brain cells
41
138680
5096
02:35
in the hippocampus
42
143800
1616
02:37
as subjects were forming new memories.
43
145440
2176
02:39
And essentially try and decode how
those brief bursts of electrical activity,
44
147640
5296
02:44
which is how neurons
communicate with each other,
45
152960
2936
02:47
how those brief bursts either allowed us
to form a new memory, or did not.
46
155920
4600
02:52
But a few years ago,
I did something very unusual in science.
47
160960
3336
02:56
As a full professor of neural science,
48
164320
2136
02:58
I decided to completely switch
my research program.
49
166480
3800
03:02
Because I encountered something
that was so amazing,
50
170840
4296
03:07
with the potential to change so many lives
51
175160
3056
03:10
that I had to study it.
52
178240
1256
03:11
I discovered and I experienced
the brain-changing effects of exercise.
53
179520
6816
03:18
And I did it in a completely
inadvertent way.
54
186360
3176
03:21
I was actually at the height
of all the memory work that I was doing --
55
189560
3816
03:25
data was pouring in,
56
193400
1616
03:27
I was becoming known in my field
for all of this memory work.
57
195040
4536
03:31
And it should have been going great.
It was, scientifically.
58
199600
3600
03:35
But when I stuck my head
out of my lab door,
59
203720
3936
03:39
I noticed something.
60
207680
1240
03:41
I had no social life.
61
209920
1456
03:43
I spent too much time
listening to those brain cells
62
211400
2736
03:46
in a dark room, by myself.
63
214160
1576
03:47
(Laughter)
64
215760
1136
03:48
I didn't move my body at all.
65
216920
2616
03:51
I had gained 25 pounds.
66
219560
2736
03:54
And actually, it took me
many years to realize it,
67
222320
2816
03:57
I was actually miserable.
68
225160
1456
03:58
And I shouldn't be miserable.
69
226640
1696
04:00
And I went on a river-rafting trip --
by myself, because I had no social life.
70
228360
4456
04:04
And I came back --
71
232840
1256
04:06
(Laughter)
72
234120
1016
04:07
thinking, "Oh, my God,
I was the weakest person on that trip."
73
235160
3456
04:10
And I came back with a mission.
74
238640
1536
04:12
I said, "I'm never going to feel
like the weakest person
75
240200
2656
04:14
on a river-rafting trip again."
76
242880
1496
04:16
And that's what made me go to the gym.
77
244400
1976
04:18
And I focused my type-A personality
78
246400
3496
04:21
on going to all the exercise
classes at the gym.
79
249920
2936
04:24
I tried everything.
80
252880
1896
04:26
I went to kickbox,
dance, yoga, step class,
81
254800
3936
04:30
and at first it was really hard.
82
258760
2136
04:32
But what I noticed is that after every
sweat-inducing workout that I tried,
83
260920
4976
04:37
I had this great mood boost
and this great energy boost.
84
265920
3896
04:41
And that's what kept me
going back to the gym.
85
269840
2736
04:44
Well, I started feeling stronger.
86
272600
2576
04:47
I started feeling better,
I even lost that 25 pounds.
87
275200
3616
04:50
And now, fast-forward a year and a half
into this regular exercise program
88
278840
5000
04:56
and I noticed something that really
made me sit up and take notice.
89
284800
3216
05:00
I was sitting at my desk,
writing a research grant,
90
288040
2976
05:03
and a thought went through my mind
91
291040
2056
05:05
that had never gone
through my mind before.
92
293120
2656
05:07
And that thought was,
93
295800
1856
05:09
"Gee, grant-writing is going well today."
94
297680
3296
05:13
And all the scientists --
95
301000
1296
05:14
(Laughter)
96
302320
1016
05:15
yeah, all the scientists
always laugh when I say that,
97
303360
2576
05:17
because grant-writing never goes well.
98
305960
2016
05:20
It is so hard; you're always
pulling your hair out,
99
308000
2816
05:22
trying to come up with that
million-dollar-winning idea.
100
310840
3256
05:26
But I realized that
the grant-writing was going well,
101
314120
3256
05:29
because I was able
to focus and maintain my attention
102
317400
4336
05:33
for longer than I had before.
103
321760
2016
05:35
And my long-term memory --
what I was studying in my own lab --
104
323800
4976
05:40
seemed to be better in me.
105
328800
1840
05:43
And that's when I put it together.
106
331560
2056
05:45
Maybe all that exercise
that I had included and added to my life
107
333640
5216
05:50
was changing my brain.
108
338880
1216
05:52
Maybe I did an experiment on myself
without even knowing it.
109
340120
3016
05:55
So as a curious neuroscientist,
110
343160
1616
05:56
I went to the literature to see
what I could find about what we knew
111
344800
3696
06:00
about the effects
of exercise on the brain.
112
348520
2096
06:02
And what I found was an exciting
and a growing literature
113
350640
4136
06:06
that was essentially showing everything
that I noticed in myself.
114
354800
4176
06:11
Better mood, better energy,
better memory, better attention.
115
359000
3960
06:15
And the more I learned,
116
363600
2176
06:17
the more I realized
how powerful exercise was.
117
365800
3376
06:21
Which eventually
led me to the big decision
118
369200
3176
06:24
to completely shift my research focus.
119
372400
3736
06:28
And so now, after several years
of really focusing on this question,
120
376160
4896
06:33
I've come to the following conclusion:
121
381080
2896
06:36
that exercise is
the most transformative thing
122
384000
3496
06:39
that you can do for your brain today
123
387520
2256
06:41
for the following three reasons.
124
389800
2096
06:43
Number one: it has
immediate effects on your brain.
125
391920
3776
06:47
A single workout that you do
126
395720
2016
06:49
will immediately increase
levels of neurotransmitters
127
397760
3616
06:53
like dopamine, serotonin
and noradrenaline.
128
401400
3536
06:56
That is going to increase your mood
right after that workout,
129
404960
3256
07:00
exactly what I was feeling.
130
408240
1576
07:01
My lab showed, that a single workout
131
409840
2456
07:04
can improve your ability
to shift and focus attention,
132
412320
3576
07:07
and that focus improvement
will last for at least two hours.
133
415920
3936
07:11
And finally, studies have shown
134
419880
1616
07:13
that a single workout
will improve your reaction times
135
421520
3376
07:16
which basically means
136
424920
1256
07:18
that you are going to be faster
at catching that cup of Starbucks
137
426200
3336
07:21
that falls off the counter,
138
429560
1736
07:23
which is very, very important.
139
431320
1736
07:25
(Laughter)
140
433080
1016
07:26
But these immediate effects are transient,
they help you right after.
141
434120
3920
07:30
What you have to do is do what I did,
142
438720
1816
07:32
that is change your exercise regime,
increase your cardiorespiratory function,
143
440560
4016
07:36
to get the long-lasting effects.
144
444600
2336
07:38
And these effects are long-lasting
145
446960
2256
07:41
because exercise actually
changes the brain's anatomy,
146
449240
4416
07:45
physiology and function.
147
453680
2000
07:48
Let's start with my favorite
brain area, the hippocampus.
148
456360
3240
07:52
The hippocampus --
149
460360
1376
07:53
or exercise actually
produces brand new brain cells,
150
461760
4456
07:58
new brain cells in the hippocampus,
that actually increase its volume,
151
466240
4656
08:02
as well as improve
your long-term memory, OK?
152
470920
4336
08:07
And that including in you and me.
153
475280
2440
08:10
Number two: the most common finding
in neuroscience studies,
154
478400
3616
08:14
looking at effects of long-term exercise,
155
482040
2616
08:16
is improved attention function
dependent or your prefrontal cortex.
156
484680
4376
08:21
You not only get
better focus and attention,
157
489080
2456
08:23
but the volume of the hippocampus
increases as well.
158
491560
3576
08:27
And finally, you not only get
immediate effects of mood with exercise
159
495160
4976
08:32
but those last for a long time.
160
500160
1656
08:33
So you get long-lasting increases
in those good mood neurotransmitters.
161
501840
5360
08:39
But really, the most transformative thing
that exercise will do
162
507920
4576
08:44
is its protective effects on your brain.
163
512520
3176
08:47
Here you can think
about the brain like a muscle.
164
515720
2856
08:50
The more you're working out,
165
518600
1656
08:52
the bigger and stronger your hippocampus
and prefrontal cortex gets.
166
520280
4840
08:57
Why is that important?
167
525640
1296
08:58
Because the prefrontal cortex
and the hippocampus
168
526960
2776
09:01
are the two areas that are most
susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases
169
529760
5776
09:07
and normal cognitive decline in aging.
170
535560
2920
09:10
So with increased exercise
over your lifetime,
171
538960
3176
09:14
you're not going to cure
dementia or Alzheimer's disease,
172
542160
3136
09:17
but what you're going to do
is you're going to create
173
545320
2496
09:19
the strongest, biggest hippocampus
and prefrontal cortex
174
547840
2656
09:22
so it takes longer for these diseases
to actually have an effect.
175
550520
4440
09:27
You can think of exercise, therefore,
176
555560
2776
09:30
as a supercharged 401K for your brain, OK?
177
558360
5416
09:35
And it's even better, because it's free.
178
563800
2880
09:39
So this is the point in the talk
where everybody says,
179
567880
2896
09:42
"That sounds so interesting, Wendy,
180
570800
2136
09:44
but I really will only
want to know one thing.
181
572960
2536
09:47
And that is, just tell me
the minimum amount of exercise
182
575520
3896
09:51
I need to get all these changes."
183
579440
1856
09:53
(Laughter)
184
581320
1016
09:54
And so I'm going to tell you
the answer to that question.
185
582360
2816
09:57
First, good news: you don't have to become
a triathlete to get these effects.
186
585200
4296
10:01
The rule of thumb is you want to get
three to four times a week exercise
187
589520
4536
10:06
minimum 30 minutes an exercise session,
188
594080
3416
10:09
and you want to get aerobic exercise in.
189
597520
2656
10:12
That is, get your heart rate up.
190
600200
1976
10:14
And the good news is,
you don't have to go to the gym
191
602200
2496
10:16
to get a very expensive gym membership.
192
604720
2016
10:18
Add an extra walk around the block
in your power walk.
193
606760
3696
10:22
You see stairs -- take stairs.
194
610480
2456
10:24
And power-vacuuming can be as good
as the aerobics class
195
612960
4096
10:29
that you were going to take at the gym.
196
617080
1880
10:31
So I've gone from memory pioneer
197
619800
4056
10:35
to exercise explorer.
198
623880
1776
10:37
From going into the innermost
workings of the brain,
199
625680
3816
10:41
to trying to understand how exercise
can improve our brain function,
200
629520
4216
10:45
and my goal in my lab right now
201
633760
2816
10:48
is to go beyond that rule of thumb
that I just gave you --
202
636600
3136
10:51
three to four times a week, 30 minutes.
203
639760
1896
10:53
I want to understand
the optimum exercise prescription
204
641680
5216
10:58
for you, at your age,
at your fitness level,
205
646920
3976
11:02
for your genetic background,
206
650920
1896
11:04
to maximize the effects of exercise today
207
652840
3776
11:08
and also to improve your brain
and protect your brain the best
208
656640
5296
11:13
for the rest of your life.
209
661960
1776
11:15
But it's one thing to talk about exercise,
and it's another to do it.
210
663760
4056
11:19
So I'm going to invoke my power
as a certified exercise instructor,
211
667840
3736
11:23
to ask you all to stand up.
212
671600
1576
11:25
(Laughter)
213
673200
1856
11:27
We're going to do
just one minute of exercise.
214
675080
2256
11:29
It's call-and-response,
just do what I do, say what I say,
215
677360
3496
11:32
and make sure you don't punch
your neighbor, OK?
216
680880
3136
11:36
Music!
217
684040
1216
11:37
(Upbeat music)
218
685280
1616
11:38
Five, six, seven, eight,
it's right, left, right, left.
219
686920
4496
11:43
And I say, I am strong now.
220
691440
4696
11:48
Let's hear you.
221
696160
1216
11:49
Audience: I am strong now.
222
697400
3016
11:52
Wendy Suzuki: Ladies,
I am Wonder Woman-strong.
223
700440
3656
11:56
Let's hear you!
224
704120
1216
11:57
Audience: I am Wonder Woman-strong.
225
705360
2896
12:00
WS: New move -- uppercut, right and left.
226
708280
2616
12:02
I am inspired now. You say it!
227
710920
3896
12:06
Audience: I am inspired now.
228
714840
3336
12:10
WS: Last move -- pull it down,
right and left, right and left.
229
718200
3896
12:14
I say, I am on fire now! You say it.
230
722120
4776
12:18
Audience: I am on fire now.
231
726920
3296
12:22
WS: And done! OK, good job!
232
730240
2496
12:24
(Applause)
233
732760
5216
12:30
Thank you.
234
738000
1616
12:31
I want to leave you with one last thought.
235
739640
2776
12:34
And that is, bringing
exercise in your life
236
742440
3456
12:37
will not only give you
a happier, more protective life today,
237
745920
4976
12:42
but it will protect your brain
from incurable diseases.
238
750920
4576
12:47
And in this way it will change
the trajectory of your life
239
755520
5136
12:52
for the better.
240
760680
1216
12:53
Thank you very much.
241
761920
1216
12:55
(Applause)
242
763160
3256
12:58
Thank you.
243
766440
1216
12:59
(Applause)
244
767680
2200

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Wendy Suzuki - Neuroscientist, author
Wendy Suzuki is researching the science behind the extraordinary, life-changing effects that physical activity can have on the most important organ in your body: your brain.

Why you should listen

Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, an author, storyteller and fitness instructor. She received her undergraduate degree in physiology and human anatomy at the University of California, Berkeley in 1987 studying with Prof. Marion C. Diamond, a leader in the field of brain plasticity. She went on to earn her PhDin Neuroscience from U.C. San Diego in 1993 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health before accepting her faculty position at New York University in 1998.

Suzuki's major research interest continues to be brain plasticity. She is best known for her extensive work studying areas in the brain critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories. More recently, her work has focused on understanding how aerobic exercise can be used to improve learning, memory and higher cognitive abilities in humans. She is passionate about teaching, about exercise (intenSati) and about supporting and mentoring up and coming scientists.

More profile about the speaker
Wendy Suzuki | Speaker | TED.com