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While running in the morning, I find that I regularly generate a large number of ideas and solve problems. It seems that exercise would increase oxygen to the brain, causing increased activity.

I am trying to encourage a friend to exercise. He values his work more than his health. I would like to show him evidence of exercise improving work performance.

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This is true. But this question is more appropriate for a psychology forum. –  Chris Pietschmann Aug 19 '11 at 15:11
    
I respectfully disagree with Chris Pietschmann, A question discussing the benefits of exercise, and trying to make others see the benefit of it, seems like a good fit for this site. –  Joshua Carmody Aug 19 '11 at 15:23
    
Maybe it's not the exercise itself, but the fact that you run around for a long time and eventually the thoughts fly... –  Steeven Aug 19 '11 at 17:29
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I'm hardly an expert on this subject, but here's a few articles/resources you might find useful:

  • New York Times Blog - July 27, 2011 - Mostly focuses on how exercise staves off mental degradation in the elderly. A quote from the article:
    But even so, the effects of this modest activity on the brain were remarkable, Dr. Middleton said. While the wholly sedentary volunteers, and there were many of these, scored significantly worse over the years on tests of cognitive function, the most active group showed little decline.
  • The American Physiological Society - Exercise Has Numerous Beneficial Effects on Brain Health and Cognition -
    The reviewed studies suggest that both aerobic exercise and strength training can have significant positive effects on brain health and function, but more research is needed to better elucidate these effects.
  • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain - This is a book, and thus it costs money. I have not read it. But it is rated highly by reviewers and promises to discuss the many links between brain function and exercise. This is a quote from the second user review listed on that link:
    Our doctors always say to get more exercise. We always yawn and say of course; we've heard it all before. And then we are mediocre in our follow up. After reading Spark my entire viewpoint has changed. Exercise is a master key to brain functioning. Cholesterol and other system problems caused by lack of exercise are a bit ambiguous since we often can't directly feel them until we manifest some disease. Brain functioning is something else entirely. We can feel an almost immediate change after aerobic exercise. After reading Spark I definitely have become a six day a week exerciser. I need my brain functioning as well as possible, and the data in this book has made a believer out out of me.
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