Exercise Before Learning?: Study Smarter by Running Harder
Yes, yes, exercise is good for you – what’s new?
From diapers to deadlines we’re told that exercise is key in maintaining your health. Exercise to postpone the inevitable and lead a more active life. As compelling as this is, it apparently isn’t all that exercise has to offer. So strap yourself in as you get yet another reason on why you and your kids should be exercising.
Common misconception: “Don’t exercise much before studying, otherwise you’ll be too tired to concentrate”
Okay, let’s break this one down real quick. In my history of tutoring, I’ve very rarely dealt with many parents that feel their kid has “not enough” energy. As for older students, exercise will often have the opposite effect that you might expect. While of course you become physically more drained, you actually find more mental clarity and focus afterwards. Don’t worry, I’ll explain why soon.
Is this just a hunch you have, or is there actually some basis for this?
Firstly, ouch that you would even think for a moment that I would write this as an educated guess. On the contrary, I’m about to blast you with enough science that you’ll have wished I was just going to stop at ‘exercise = good’.
The story goes…
A group of students was falling behind in their classes at a school in Naperville, America. So far so standard. When eventually a P.E. teacher (Phil Lawler) eventually volunteered to have a program where before school, these kids could participate in aerobic training.
The idea was pretty simple – these kids aren’t concentrating enough, therefore they have too much energy, therefore we should that energy before classes. The benefit of physical health was a convenient bonus.
The results they found were insane.
- The kids had an average of 17% increase across subjects within a term
- After school-wide implementation, they finished first in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)
- And they finished 6th internationally in Maths
So this begs the question, ‘Why?’
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
If it helps, you can think of this as fertiliser for your brain. In essence, BDNF is what your brain uses to create new neural pathways. What’s interesting is that your brain produces plenty of this after aerobic exercise.
Specifically doing any sort of activity that keeps your heart rate at about 70% of it’s maximum for 30 minutes (if you don’t know your maximum, a good estimate is 220-your age).
In addition, the effects are more pronounced, the sooner you start learning after exercising.
How do I get the most out of this?
As a student, the smartest approach to your study is to attempt to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise in before you start. This can be from a run, swim, biking – whatever form you want, but if possible use a heart rate monitor to for best results.
Make sure that you study what you think is hardest after exercising, since you want to make the most of your time.
Kept consistent, you should reduce your stress, improve your mood, increase your memory, sharpen your intellect and become overall physically healthier.
Honestly, this is one of the best things you can do for yourself, since the amount of benefit you get for comparatively little effort is ridiculous.
So go out there and study smarter by running harder!
*For anyone wanting to read more on this case study, I suggest you check out Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.