How Exercise Can Help Boost Your Brain
Want to score higher on tests, remember vocab words more easily and spark your creativity? You might want to hit the gym.
Studies have shown that almost any type of aerobic activity, such as running, biking, swimming or dancing, can have a positive impact on brain function, and many studies have also shown a direct link between physical activity and test scores.
For example, in a recent three-year study in Minnesota, 14 schools added some amount of movement into the school day, and researchers found that students who were more physically fit were 27 percent more proficient in math and 24 percent proficient in reading.
So why is exercise good for our brains? When you exercise, your heart pumps more oxygen-rich blood to your brain — a good thing considering that your brain uses more oxygen than any other organ. And, according to an article in Time Magazine, exercise increases your levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps repair damaged brain cells and grow new ones.
Here are some of the biggest ways that exercise can help your brain:
- Improves Focus
Exercise tires us out, and the better we sleep, the better we’re able to concentrate during the day. One study, published in 2012, asked a group of young people with an average age of 18 to run for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for three weeks. Those who ran were able to sleep better and had more focus during the day than those who didn’t run. In another study, teenagers who exercised an average of 18 hours a week reported that they got better sleep and were able to concentrate more during the day than teens who spent five or fewer hours a week exercising.
- Improves Memory
Numerous studies have shown that exercise can boost memory. According to Harvard Medical School, the parts of your brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal and medial temporal cortex) are larger in people who exercise than in people who don’t. And, best of all, you don’t have to become a gym rat to get the benefits — studies show you can boost your memory just by walking briskly for one hour, twice a week.
- Improves Creativity
“Sit as little as possible,” is a wise quote attributed to philosopher Frederich Nietzsche, one of many famous writers who knew that you can often think better on your feet. That’s because exercise promotes the growth of brain cells in the hippocampus, which may result in increased creativity. Several recent studies have born this out. For example, a recent study at Stanford showed that walking can help you come up with new ideas, and another study from the Netherlands showed that those who exercised regularly performed better on creativity tests than those who didn’t exercise at all.
- Improves Problem-Solving
Have you ever been so in the zone while running or biking that you come back with a new idea for how to solve a problem? One study had young, healthy men ride a bike for 30 minutes and complete a series of cognitive tests before and after they rode. After biking, participants scored better on memory, reasoning and planning and were able to complete the test more quickly than before they rode.
- Reduces Stress
One of the biggest upsides of exercise is the fact that it reduces levels of stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) in your body, making you feel more calm and relaxed — which can be a huge asset when you’re freaking out over a final exam or about to take a standardized test. Plus, when you exercise, your body produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that boost your mood, helping you overcome depression and anxiety.
So no matter what kind of exercise you like to do, just get moving! Your brain (and your grades) will thank you.