How Exercise Can Make You Smarter

We all know that exercise is good for us. That it benefits our overall health and is an effective way to break up long hours of sitting to study and work. There is no doubt that exercise helps our immune system, reduces stress, makes us look toned, feel fit and releases endorphins, which in turn make us feel happier.

So all the more reason to do sports and exercise. But many teens do the opposite; they give up sports by the time they are going into VIth Form and more girls than boys do so. Some stats say that 30% of 16-19 years old girls stop doing sports versus only 10% of boys. But with the pressures of study, exams and university applications, there is great demand on the teen body and brain in this period and keeping exercise going is so important. Not only because it helps teens setting habits for life, but also, new research shows, in keeping braincells healthy and growing.

Studies have shown that exercise benefits us more than physically and mentally alone. The oxygen that is pumped to the brain aids release of hormones, which provide “an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells.” Exercise promotes neurogenesis, aka the growth of new braincells, which is essential to improving cognitive functions and boosting memory (hippocampus) as well as sharpening up executive functions (pre-frontal cortex), such as clarity, concentration and decisiveness. Exercise – any exercise, even walking - improves the health and function of the synapses between neurons, allowing them to communicate better, which - in addition - is claimed to help creativity.

That regular exercise provides a long list of benefits must be clear to all who do it. But that it supports overall brain health and stimulates the growth of brain cells, is not widely known. Would teens give up sports knowing that it is so beneficial for the brain too? Most teens seem to give up sports because (of a combination of) their studies in VIth Form are becoming much more demanding, their lifestyles are changing (more going out) or, simply, because they think doing sports is not cool.

It may be understandable that at age 16 you do not want to spend all your spare time going to tennis- or fencing competitions all over the country, spend your weekends in a ballet studio or show up for rowing training at 6am on a winter’s morning, unless, of course, the sport in question is your life’s passion. But for all the school sports’ drop-outs, there is a lot of exercise you can do in your own time that is actually really good for brain cell growth. Running, swimming, yoga, dancing and cycling all have this incredible effect of supporting your brain health via neurogenesis and they are so easy to plan around your study schedule.

Think, before throwing the proverbial towel in the ring, of how smart your exercise or sports are making you and instead of making no time for exercise because of your studies, consider that sports & exercise sort of ‘pay for themselves’ by making you study faster with more concentration and more retention of information through improved memory. Well sign me up!

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