Does Exercise Affect the Brain?

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.

exercise-happiness-1

3 thoughts on “Does Exercise Affect the Brain?

  1. Brian D Wess

    This is an interesting blog and it relates slightly to one I just wrote about chewing gum before an exam. In my research for my blog it considered chewing gum as a small amount of physical activity and how physical activity can help before an exam. My mom is a big believer in that exercise makes you feel better and less stressed. I wonder if what’s going on here is that the exercise allows someone to be more relaxed, calm, and less stressed out or if the exercise is actually doing something else in the brain that helps with the recall of information and performance on the test. This article http://www.varsitytutors.com/blog/exercise+before+tests says that “Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that sharpen one’s ability to learn and think quickly. Also, exercising to increase mental processing is more effective if it is done immediately before taking a test.” In my research for my blog, it had said that chewing gum right before the test but not during would be helpful and this article aligns with that same thinking.

  2. Hope Ialeen Williard

    Wow! This is so interesting. I never thought of this before. This makes sense though that exercising wakes up the brain and gets you ready to learn and recall different things. I think in addition to physical exercise it is important to mentally exercise your brain as well. The brain is a muscle and needs exercise thats focused solely on it. Perhaps this means doing a crossword puzzle or a sudku puzzle or something once a day to keep your brain alert. This article suggests different exercises to do that help the brain.
    http://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/mental-fitness/brain-exercises-for-memory.aspx

Leave a Reply