Anybody who has ever finished a sprint around the track, scored a touchdown, or landed a cartwheel knows the positive thinking, clarity and joy that can come after good exercise. And every year, research reaffirms that brain science influences these positive effects, and just how far exercise can take us.
The production of new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis is increased through the development of various proteins and chemical compounds in the brain. Research shows that these protein levels increase through physical exercise.
Neurogenesis is stimulated through the production of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). Even with just 20 minutes of exercise a day, your brain triggers that a “stressful situation” is happening and BDNF is produced. BDNF has a protective and reparative element to your memory neurons and acts like a reset switch. Mix this with endorphins –another chemical your brain releases to fight stress, minimize discomfort of exercise, and block pain – and it’s why things seem so clear and we feel so at ease after exercising.
So what does this mean for students? A now famous case study of Illinois’ Naperville Central High School found a 20 percent increase in reading and math test scores in students who added a physical education class before the students’ hardest subjects. This Chicago school is now a leader in both test scores and physical fitness. In the same way, making fitness a priority for students’ aids in their college success. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and it almost immediately starts to function better, helping to boost memory, learning and concentration.
Assumption College works to bring a number of fitness and physical recreation programs to its undergraduate students. The Plourde Recreation Center offers workout classes like PIYO, Boot Camp, Power Yoga, Zumba and Spinning. Students can work out at Plourde throughout the day, participate in Intramural and Club sports, walk, bike or run on any of Worcester’s routes, and much more.
Fitting fitness in to a busy college schedule isn’t always easy, but making it a priority, and finding places to squeeze it in can make a big difference on both a student’s GPA and his or her mental health. Even if it means bringing your statistics flashcards to Plourde and studying on the elliptical, every bit of exercise can bring better mind and body function.
If you’re interested in researching connections between the brain and exercise, or how the brain and body interact, consider getting involved in psychology internships and undergraduate research in this area as you work towards your bachelor’s degree.