So you know that exercise is important for physical health, but did you know that it can also help you learn better? Various studies have linked movement with better cognitive function–benefits that you can capitalize on just by setting aside a small chunk of time each day.
Your brain on exercise
When you exercise, you are probably prioritizing muscle strength: the parts of your body that help you move more efficiently and with more ease. But are you also thinking about your brain as a muscle, too? In her TED Talk, Dr. Wendy Suzuki encourages viewers to think about their brains as muscles that also need strengthening in order to perform at their best. When you exercise, she says, your brain generates new cells in both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus: two areas that are responsible for creative thinking, mood, and memory. When new cells are formed, the volume of these areas of the brain also increases, leading to better overall brain function and recall.
Make time for movement
Even if you feel like you don’t have any extra time in the day to move your body, prioritizing exercise may help you be more efficient and productive in your day-to-day tasks, which saves you time in the long run. Not only will exercise help your cognitive functions, but it can also improve your mood, feelings of wellbeing, and sleep. In one of our favorite books about this subject, John Ratey emphasizes the importance of exercise to combat a multitude of cognitive and physical issues arising in bodies all across the US and the world. Even breaking up the recommended 30-minutes a day into smaller chunks has shown benefits over staying sedentary.
Find what moves you
Still can’t seem to find the motivation to lace up those sneakers? Almost anything that gets your heart rate up for a sustained period of time is a good place to start! Instead of thinking about shoveling the walkway or raking leaves as a mundane chore, why not frame the activity as an opportunity to build in some exercise while completing that necessary task? Whether it’s sweating it out during a rocking dance party for one or training for a race, prioritizing movement will not only help you feel better (physically and mentally) but will also help you perform better in and out of school.
Exercise and test prep
In the first few minutes of John Ratey’s TED Talk, he encourages all the participants in the audience to engage in a simple exercise in order to prime their brain for learning. His research (and Suzuki’s!) suggests that engaging in exercise before learning occurs can help you perform better in brain-focused tasks. Both researchers have highlighted the need for exercise in schools in order to increase the cognitive function of students and help them learn better throughout the day. You can try this out on your own! Before you sit down to study for your next test, take a minute for some jumping jacks or anything else that will increase your heart rate. Try this every day before you start studying and take note of how you feel during your study sessions and even during the actual test. You just might see some positive results…and incorporate more movement into your daily routine in order to keep the effects going for days and months to come!
In January, we’ll be writing about the importance of staying hydrated and exploring how and why polyphenols might help you learn better and improve your memory.