Should You Take a Break from Studying this Semester to Exercise?

By: Melissa Stock  |  October 1, 2016

melissa-stockWe have all been told that exercise is good for us and critical to our health. We all know the physical benefits it produces. Yet, we all still struggle to make the time for it. Aside from relieving stress, which I am sure we all need during the semester, research shows that moderate intensity physical activity has been linked to improved memory and thinking skills. Scientific evidence supports this, stating that what we do physically greatly affects our memory. For example, improving sleeping habits supports an increase in memory function. Recent experiments prove exercising after studying improves memory.

How exactly does exercise help improve our memory?

Guillén Fernández, director of the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour at Radboud University Medical Center explains that “there is good evidence from animal data that the release of certain neurotransmitters—dopamine and norepinephrine—leads to a biochemical cascade leading to the production of so called plasticity related proteins: these proteins help stabilize new memory traces, which would otherwise be lost. Physical exercise is at the start of this sequence, because it is accompanied by the release of dopamine and norepinephrine.” In a research study conducted by the University of British Columbia, light exercise was found to increase the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain related to memory, by triggering the growth of new cells in this part of the brain leading to improved memory. Exercise is also known to decrease stress which can also improve activity in the hippocampus. The Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter, Heidi Godman explains that “the benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”

What type of exercise will yield the best results?

Research has not yet proven specifically which type of exercise will yield the best results but Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia, suggests that “for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise selectively targets different aspects of cognition probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain.” Moderate intensity exercise for about 120 minutes per week should help improve memory. Just choose an exercise regimen you will enjoy doing such as walking, swimming, stair climbing, tennis, rowing, or dancing. Once you make the time commitment it will become an essential part of your schedule, and you won’t be able to get through the week without it!

Is exercise actually worth your time?

Aside from improved sleep, a stronger immune system, and stronger muscles, Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School, says that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.” There are clear health benefits to exercising daily. If exercise has the ability to relieve stress and improve memory, why not give it a try?