Everyone has heard before that getting a good night sleep, eating a good breakfast, and studying can help improve your grade on an exam. Recently, I heard an interesting theory saying that a small amount of exercise before an exam can drastically improve your scores. I had never heard this before, and wanted to know more about it.
Before researching whether or not exercise before an exam helps improve scores, I first wanted to know the general effect of exercise on the brain. One study supporting this idea showed that after performing M.R.I’s on a group of children, the fit children had much larger basal ganglia. This is the part of the brain that helps maintain attention and improves the ability to coordinate thoughts and actions. In this study, since the groups of children all had similar BMI’s, socioeconomic backgrounds, and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit made the portions of their brain larger.
Although the study showed how exercise can make the brain larger, I was not convinced exercise before an exam could help because students tend to use memorization for exams. There also could have been third variables or chance that made the results come out the way that they did. Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a similar survey that categorized children by their fitness levels. However, these researchers completed different tests focusing on complex memory. Complex memory goes along with activity in the hippocampus, a structure in the medial temporal lobes of the brain. The M.R.I’s revealed that fit children had thicker hippocampi, which is thought to have helped their memory. Again, this could have been due to third variables. The researchers also found that physical activity improves the microstructures of white matter in the brain. This white matter leads to faster conduction between brain regions and cognitive performance.
Another study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that “a single 30-minute session of moderate-intensity exercise could improve memory, planning, and reasoning, and shorten the amount of time needed to complete cognitive tests.” So, before your next big test, you might want to consider a quick workout to improve your scores.