Five Ways Physical Activity Helps Learning

by Christine Chadwick

Most people exercise to have fitter bodies, but did you know exercising can also give your mind a workout? Students, in particular, can enjoy many brain-boosting benefits from putting down the remote and taking an afternoon walk instead. Let's count down five ways being fit isn't just good for your body, but also for your brain.

1. It Relieves Stress

From heightened academic expectations to numerous extracurricular activities, today's students have more challenges than ever before. Unfortunately, these demands can pile up to make increasingly weary students. Exercise offers proven stress release by increasing the body's production of norepinephrine, a chemical that regulates the brain's stress response. Norepinephrine is so effective that it's used in clinical treatment for high blood pressure and bradycardia.

2. It Promotes Happiness

Happy students are productive students. When people exercise, their bodies release endorphins, which are "feel good" neurotransmitters. Studies have even linked physical activity to alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, the Mayo Clinic cites exercise as one of four steps in its "Handbook for Happiness," a program aimed at banishing the blues and enhancing quality of life.

3. It Improves Sleep

According to a study from the National Sleep Foundation, people feel more alert during the day and sleep significantly better at night if they get at least 150 minutes of weekly exercise. Researchers have long attested to the benefits of sleep for boosting memory and strengthening connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. The more students exercise, the better they sleep. And the better they sleep, the more they learn.

4. It Gets You Outside

Research suggests that children who spend more time in "green spaces" do better in school and exhibit fewer ADHD symptoms. While hitting the gym is a healthy habit, students who exercise outdoors can enjoy even more benefits.

Spending time outside is also an effective way to amp up your body's vitamin D production. If you're wondering why vitamin D matters, consider this: according to a study from the University of Cambridge, people with deficient vitamin D levels in their blood were twice as likely to be cognitively impaired as those with optimal vitamin D levels.

5. It Builds Confidence and Courage

Research published in School Psychology Quarterly determined that both courage and confidence are linked to academic performance. Students who exercise have a better self-image and are more aware of their physical abilities. This makes them more courageous about tackling new challenges in the classroom.

Unfortunately, many students don't exercise because they feel like they don't have enough time. Sticking to an exercise schedule can be tricky at first, but it will eventually become a much anticipated part of your routine.