Regular Exercise

Exercise improves both Body and Brain

The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at it’s best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important — and fascinating — than what it does for the body. Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects.     — Dr. John Ratey, in Spark, p. 3

Exercise is good for the Body

Exercise on mountain bikes.These students, biking for exercise, are not only having a good time, they are developing healthy bodies. At the same time, they are reducing stress and preparing for learning.

Walking is the exercise of choice for history’s greatest geniuses, and Jefferson was one of its most enthusiastic advocates…. Jefferson believed that walking strengthened the whole body and sharpened the mind; and he practiced the classical wisdom of… solving problems in the process of physical exercise.     — Michael J. Gelb, p. 228, bold print added.

In his book, A User’s Guide to the Brain, p. 359, Dr. Ratey points out that  “A brisk walk will bring health benefits, from reducing the risk of heart attack, hip fractures, diabetes, and colon cancer to lowering weight and blood pressure.  “It can also help keep your weight down, control blood pressure, and makes arthritis less painful. It also increases self-esteem and improves mental health

Of all the physical benefits of exercise, the one that appeals most to college students is weight loss. Nearly everyone knows that eating a moderate amount of healthy food along with regular exercise leads to weight loss.

Reaching a healthy weight not only improves your health and appearance, it improves your self-confidence and leads to improving social skills including making friends. What might motivate you to get started on that much-needed exercise is knowing that this same exercise is good for the brain. It helps people suffering from stress, anxiety, depression and even with addictions. What is even more exciting is that it can improve learning.

Exercise is also good for the brain

Exercise “increases the amount of blood that gets to the brain…. it can augment the number and density of blood vessels in the areas that need them most: the motor cortex and cerebellum.” Thus the more we exercise, “the better our circulation is and the more fit that part of the brain is.”  Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain,  p. 359.

Dr. John Ratey has written two books that include helpful information on this topic. “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, 2008, focuses of the many ways that exercise helps solve problems such as depression, and anxiety.  His earlier book, A User’s Guide to the Brain, 2001, focuses on understanding what takes place in different parts of the brain and describes the benefits of exercise for the body and the brain.

Increasing the amount of blood flowing to the brain is important because the blood carries both the food and oxygen the brain needs to work effectively. In User’s Guide, p. 368, Dr. Ratey describes it this way:

The brain is an incredibly active furnace, burning 25% of the glucose and oxygen we take in. … What little glucose is present in the brain at any time can be depleted within 5 to 10 minutes if replenishment is not available.”

This is why, when we exercise, we can think more clearly. If you study too long and you have trouble concentrating, it helps to take a break. Eat a healthy snack and get some exercise, even if it is only a short walk.

Simple movement of the muscles stimulates the grown of axons, which carry messages between neurons. The number of axons is directly related to intelligence, and people (infants as well as adults) who move around more, benefit from greater axonal development.                                                                            — Pierce Howard p.156

To put this in simple terms, Exercise actually makes us more intelligent.

Now for the Surprising Part

Dr. Ratey continues to describe surprising results from recent studies. User’s Guide, p. 360, bold print added,

 Exercise that involves complex movements can impact our brains in other ways. Modern dance, basketball, and the martial arts involve a host of coordinated movements and practicing them causes more connections to grow between neurons. Exercise that forces us to improve balance and coordination may not only help overcome clumsiness but also reduce shyness and even enhance the ability to make friends.

Make Exercise a part of your Healthy Habits

Exercise can improve the brain’s executive functions: planning organizing, multi-tasking, and more. Physical activity improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells.                     –Emily Anthes  p. 4. (bold print added)

Recent research shows that exercise with complex movement like dance, martial arts, or playing basketball “can affect the basal ganglia and corpus callosum, sharpening memory and increasing the capacity to master new information.
— Ratey, User’s Guide, p. 360,( bold print added.)

1. The most important thing you can do is to follow a regular schedule of at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week. Increasing this to 60 minutes several of those days is even more helpful. Exercise before classes in the morning will result in the greatest improvement in learning.

2. Vary the activities you do to include some vigorous activities, some strength training (weights or elastic cords), some stretching, and some that require complex coordination. Doing a variety of exercises is  more interesting and will make it easier to stick to your program.

3. Just before class or studying, it helps to take a short walk. This can be simply walking briskly from one building to another, something you are already doing. If you have been studying and feel your concentration lagging, a good walk will clear your mind and help you to be energized to continue studying.

4. If you don’t have time for a walk or if you’re in the middle of a class or a test, there are several things you can do to re-energize your brain. You can tighten your muscles and then slowly relax them. You can stretch your legs and arms. I like stretching my arms behind my body. You can also keep your arms close to your body, bent at the elbows and pull the elbows back as far as they will go, repeating this several times. Likewise, you can exercise your legs by lifting your knees as high as you can without lifting your toes off the floor.

To increase the oxygen going to your brain, practice deep breathing, causing your abdomen expand rather than your chest. Ten good deep breaths will help you focus on your work.

For an in-depth discussion of the benefits of exercise and helpful suggestions see

Further links:  Further information on the three important   kinds of exercise

Healthy Eating                  Drink Water                 Enough Sleep 
Avoid Addictive Substances

Leave a Reply