The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise
There are a lot of reasons to stay physically active. Exercise is good for your body, it can help with weight management, build muscle, and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. What you may not know, is that regular exercise is also good for your brain!
Sometimes it can be hard to fit exercise into your schedule. Between studying, classes, and extracurriculars, there are a lot of things to juggle, especially around finals. Fitness can positively enhance your studying, so it's a good idea when creating your study schedule to factor in time for your workout. “Exercise positively affects structures in the brain, like the hippocampus, involved in learning and memory,” said Teresa Snow, Ph.D., a Georgia Tech Applied Physiology professor. “It causes the releases of chemicals which promote healthy brain cells and can enhance insulin sensitivity.” In fact, studies show that higher fitness was even associated with a larger hippocampus and bigger is better when it comes to this part of your brain! A larger hippocampus is associated with longer-lasting spatial memory, meaning you’ll remember those calculus equations for even longer.
However, exercise doesn’t just improve memory, but processing as well. “There is mounting evidence that supports the relationship between physical activity and cognitive function,” said Christie Stewart, Ph.D., Georgia Tech Applied Physiology professor. “Many studies indicate that physical activity can enhance areas of the brain involved in thinking.” Specifically, studies have suggested that the prefrontal and medial prefrontal cortex (parts of the brain that control thinking and memory) have greater volume in people who exercise. By increasing the size of these regions of the brain, processing and decision-making abilities are enhanced. “Physical activity increases the ability to learn, make decisions, and handle stressful situations effectively,’ said Stewart. This means that exercise can help students respond better to challenges (like that physics final) and process information more quickly.
Although it may feel as though you have no time to spare, it’s important to make time for fitness in your study routine. “It takes effort,” said Snow. “You have to make taking care of your health a priority.” Take the time to incorporate aerobic exercise into your study schedule—you don’t have to run a marathon or become a powerlifter to sharpen your cognitive functions and memory. Regular aerobic exercise will do the trick! “The key is to find an activity that you enjoy, gets you moving, and helps you refocus for your next assignment or study session,” said Stewart. “Every little bit counts!” Some great examples include a walk around the indoor CRC track, recreation with friends (such as tennis, basketball, or even a hike), a bike ride, or a group fitness workout!
Take time to incorporate different aerobic activities into your finals routine: your body and your brain will thank you. “The research is pretty convincing working out can help students make the most of their time spent studying,” said Snow. Visit the crc.gatech.edu for drop-in fitness classes, rock climbing, and plenty of other options that would make great additions to your finals study schedule!
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- Created By:Christine Kapurch
- Modified By:Jessica Kolis