Tell Your Brain to Hit the Weights


Pranati Wadhawan

NYU professor, Wendy Suzuki, leads her students through a workout before each lecture.

Mina Kaji, Contributing Writer

Center for Neural Science Professor Wendy Suzuki is redefining the traditional classroom experience. Suzuki is the first professor at NYU to work out with her students before teaching them. At the start of each lecture, she leads her students through a workout called IntenSati — a mixture of physical movements from kickboxing and dance to yoga and
martial arts.

Suzuki created the exercise component of her class after discovering the numerous positive effects exercise has on the brain, specifically long term memory and focus. She used her students as the subjects for her first exercise study and tested whether one semester of increased exercise could improve the students’ memory functioning relative to a traditional academic setting.

She found that even by increasing activity once a week, the students in the exercise class had significantly improved reaction times. In addition, the students’ academic performance decreased in the class without the aerobic exercise, while the students’ performance remained constant in the class with aerobic exercise.

“This was exciting to me,” Suzuki said. “Even in high-functioning NYU neuroscience major students, only one exercise class a week showed improvements.”

This inspired her to create a second study involving a cohort of NYU freshmen. This semester the students were instructed to maintain their normal levels of activity, but in the fall, they will be exercising around three times a week. Suzuki wants to see how exercise will affect student engagement with the university, study habits and mood to potentially improve the educational quality at NYU.

The freshmen cohort has already secured a sponsorship with the New York Sports and Racket Club, giving them access to a workout facility and trainer who will teach free classes in Washington
Square Park.

“I’m going to be out there exercising with them too,” Suzuki said. “I want to create a community that makes exercising fun and accessible. My goal is to make NYU the exercise university.”

If the freshmen cohort is a success, Suzuki hopes to expand the program to upperclassmen as well.

“Exercise allows you to get the maximum out of the brain that you have,” Suzuki said.  “Exercise is something that when you spend time on it, it will buy you time when you start to work.”

Suzuki’s passion for researching the effects of exercise started when she commenced on a personal journey to lead a more balanced life.

“I was being productive,” Suzuki said. “Things were going well, but at some point I realized I was not very happy.”

Suzuki hired a trainer and found workout classes that she loved. The gym is where she fell in love with IntenSati, the class that she would later become a certified
instructor in.

“I was in such a better mood,” Suzuki said. “Not only that, but I was able to recall things faster. I realized that my brain was better from working out more.”

Professor Suzki’s classes are only open to neuroscience majors, but that’s not the only way to learn about her combination of exercise and brain science. You can check out her book, “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” or to find an IntenSati class near you.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 16 print edition. Email Mina Kaji at [email protected].