1/30/2018 10:16 AM

The influence of training and movement on your cognition

I was 16 years old, just like him. The only difference is that he was on the pitch and I was thirty meters higher in the stands. It was his debut in the first team of FC Groningen. Me, my father and over 15 thousand other spectators in the stadium witnessed his first minutes in the Eredivisie (the top league in the Netherlands). He played soccer with his teammates against Feyenoord and  his direct opponent, Kees van Wonderen, was totally lost.

It was Arjen Robben.

His career is impressive. Via PSV, Chelsea and Real Madrid to Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, he was also an important asset in the Dutch national team. He shot the decisive penalty in the penalty series against Sweden at the 2004 European Championships in Portugal. This spring he retired as international after the team failed qualifying series for the World Cup in Russia.

Weird things

In an article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant there was an article about the youth academy of soccer club AZ from Alkmaar. In the team, which performs well in the Dutch Eredivisie, a number of football players are from the own youth academy. Maybe they will be as good as Arjen Robben, but probably not. Footballers of that caliber are born once every few generations.

The journalist had noticed that the five players from AZ from the own youth academy had all completed an higher level eduction at secondary school. Midfielder Guus Til responded: "That seems like a coincidence. Intelligence on the football field is different than in the classroom. I have seen very smart guys doing weird things on the pitch".

Is there such a thing as football intelligence and does it have a connection with ordinary intelligence? Arjen Robben has completed an HAVO education, while for example Johan Cruijff sacked at the ULO twice, the Advanced Primary Education.


I do not follow national or international football very intensively, but I still like to watch individual world class teams and events. Like Lionel Messi, the playmaker and striker of FC Barcelona (Spain).

The way in which he can make goals or put teammates in a scoring position is unprecedented. I sometimes wonder if it is intelligence or intuition developed by playing and training for years.

Smarter move

Football players are a reflection of society. The level of education varies, although there are relatively few football players who combine their careers with a study program at a college or university. There is simply not enough time.

But luckily for you: It works the other way around. By moving and training you can improve your cognitive performance. As with my earlier article on sleeping, it also applies that you must first have your fundamentals in order before you can use nootropics to boost your level even further.

Start with the fundamental building blocks, such as sleeping well, eating and exercising.


A way to move well is very simple: walking. An example that has always lingered with me is the Greek philosopher Socrates. He took his students with them for a walk outside the city walls of Athens to teach them.

Later this was also supported by, among others, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (United States). In their publication they write that regular exercise, such as walking, leads to a growth of the hippocampus and an improvement of memory. The hippocampus is a part of the brain with many functions, including storing and retrieving information.

Aerobix exercise

Besides walking it is also smart (pun intended) to move more intensively a few times a week. These are aerobic sports. Examples of this are running, cycling or any other form of training in which the heart rate is significantly increased.

In 2010, a study by scientists from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) showed that intensive exercise helps in the production of BDNF. BDNF stands for 'brain derived nootrophic factor'. This is a protein that stimulates the production of new brain cells. An increased production of BDNF is linked to a delay in cognitive decline.

Time of training

Not only in the United States and Denmark research is being conducted into the influence of movement on the brain. A group of researchers from Radboud University in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) published a study in 2016 on the time of training. They did this by having two groups of test subjects and a control group study, play sports, do a test and question them again two days later. This they combined with making brain scans. A group started to exercise immediately after studying, another group after 4 hours and the control group did not train.

Between the athletes and non-athletes the researchers saw a significant difference in the amount of information they could remember and this was also reflected in the brain scans, especially in the hippocampus (there it is again). The test subjects who had participated in training better from the test.

What I find interesting about this research is that they conclude that the best effect occurred in the group of subjects who went to work 4 hours after studying. So this is the 'take-away': if you stop studying at 1 PM, you will have the most effect if you put on your sports shoes at 5 PM and run for a while.


Walking and aerobic exercise are good for your brain, but you can earn bonus points with the previously mentioned time that you start exercising. From my own experience there are two other ways in which you can get even more out of your training.

The first is the place where you sport. A running belt in the gym with a television screen in front of you is not an attractive idea for me. I prefer to run outside, with fresh air, sometimes some rain or snow and many more things to see. Sometimes I walk for a half hour in one direction to end up in an unknown part of the city. Then I have to use my sense of direction to make sure that I come home again.

Free Running

The second bonus tip is to regularly jump over or on things. This does not have to be as extreme as Parcours of Free Running. This is a form of running where you jump on and off roofs and walls.

However, I try to stimulate my coordination from time to time by jumping over fences and ditches or by avoiding dogs. That way I stimulate my brain not only by the movement itself, but also because I give myself extra stimuli.

With these tips you become smarter. Of course you hae to start with the fundamentals of proper sleep and food. Then try to add movement and nootropics to give your cognition an extra boost.

Maybe you will become as (football) smart as Arjen Robben.


This article has been written by Peter Joosten. Peter is trendwatcher, biohacker, human guinea pig, blogger at ProjectLeven.nl and a biohacking vlogger on Youtube.


Posted in Lifestyle By

Peter Joosten