It’s important we think about the health of our brain in the same way we do the rest of our body. It’s the part of our anatomy that needs the best tender loving care during busy periods of work or study. New research shows we may think about the brain the same way we do a muscle, because exercise has positive impacts on its power. In Trends in Neuroscience, Professor Carl Cotman and Doctor Nicole Berchtold explain that exercise provides “a simple means to improve brain function and promote brain plasticity” They go on to write that when you work out, hormones are released in your brain that stimulate the growth of neural pathways. There are different ways you can give your brain a work out. Brain training exercises are useful, but study isn’t the only way to strengthen your brain. Exercise is a fantastic way to look after yourself and keeping your brain working at its best. Doing some form of cardio not only helps us to relax it also lowers our sensitivity to stress, leaving us in the best physical and mental shape to succeed in our studies.
Exercise Encourages Brain Growth
Going for a run isn’t just good for our legs, it’s also good for our brains. When you go for a run, your heart pumps harder and faster. Increased heart rate means more blood is pumped to the brain, delivering oxygen faster. Carl Cotman and Nicole Berchtold argue in “Exercise: a behavioural intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity” that our brains soak up a significant portion of the oxygen we inhale; oxygen is vital for the brain to operate well. This increased flow of blood and oxygen gets hormones pumping and these hormones help to create a happy, healthy environment for the growth of brain cells.
In particular, a hormone called BDFN stimulates the multiplication of cells. Particularly in the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain dedicated to memory. The more you exercise, the more BDNF you produce. The more cells we have, the more connections we can have between brain cells. If you have more neuronal connections or pathways around the brain, your brain can function at its peak. Cotman and Berchtold summarise simply, “exercise can enhance learning”. Going for a run or a brisk walk not only clears your mind, it stimulates your brain.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Studies indicate that exercise helps to reduce or prevent the symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as lower our sensitivity to stress. Professor Peter Salmon of The University of Liverpool writes that physical exercise “acts as a possible psychological intervention in its own right”, which means the effect of exercise is not only calming, it may prevent stresses occurring in the first place.
We’ve learned some hormones improve the functionality of your brain, but there are some that make us scatterbrained, too. When we’re stressed, a hormone called cortisol is pumping through our body. The Hormone Health Network write that most of our cells have cortisol receptors, which means that when cortisol is released we feel its effects all throughout our body. Cortisol is necessary because, among other things, it helps to regulate our metabolism as well as aid in forming memories, however too much cortisol and we feel shaky and flustered.
The good news is that cortisol levels are lowered by exercise, so when you’re feeling stressed about study and your cortisol is pumping going for a run will help to calm you down. Exercise really is a great way to beat stress.
Give Your Brain a Break
After sitting at a desk for several hours, your brain is tired and your body feels sluggish and slow. Your concentration is lapsing, and you’re definitely not producing your best work. Strange as it sounds, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to stop. When your brain is tired, it isn’t operating well, and it’s difficult to store information as memories, or understand new concepts. The best thing you can do in these moments is take a break. Get up, put on your workout gear and get out of the house. The positive effects of exercise aren’t derived solely from the biological effect it has on your body. The simple act of allowing your mind to go elsewhere, and think whatever it wants, is wonderfully meditative.
A few laps around the park, listening to some music or enjoying the silence, and you’ll be able to come back to your study with a fresh perspective. If running isn’t your thing, try some yoga or weightlifting. Anything that makes you break out in a light sweat will do wonders for your body and mind for the rest of the day.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
Your mum has probably told you, and as per usual she is absolutely correct: there is nothing better than a good night’s sleep. Not only does a proper rest leave you prepared to tackle all of the challenges you might be facing the next day, your brain is working stuff out even while you’re sleeping. Much of your hard work studying can go to waste if you don’t give your brain sleep time to store and process information correctly. But it’s easy to get into the habit of drinking a few coffees a day while studying, and when we finally close our books and for the night, quite often we find ourselves watching movies or scrolling the internet for hours, not ready for bed. After a day of reading and writing, our minds are exhausted but our bodies aren’t. Plus, if you’re stressed or your mind is elsewhere, it can be hard to get to sleep. This is where the importance of exercise comes in. If you’ve worn yourself out in a gym class or on a bike ride, you’ll want to go to bed early, simple as that. And because your body really needs the rest, chances are your sleep will be sound as well.
There are heaps of different ways to get your heart rate up, and you might want to try a few things to find the exercise that suits you best. Some people love working out in the morning, others at night. Some like to work out in the park, others prefer the gym. Whatever works for you, you can be sure that regular exercise prepares your body and mind for every success in your studies.
What are your favourite exercise to complete while studying? Let us know in the comments below