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How exercise affects your brain

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Published: 10 December 2021

Student on a treadmill

Studying for your degree can require a lot of brainpower.  

Whether you are a long-time academic jumping or you’ve come from a life of work or raising a family, the concentration and mental dedication study takes is not to be taken lightly.  

You’ll need all the help you can get, which is why it’s time to consider the brain-boosting benefits of exercise.  

You might have heard the idea of physical activity helping your mental capacity. It almost seems obvious that the fitter you are, the better your mind will be.  

But how exactly does working out help you think?   

Memory  

Exercise is known to release a whole range of proteins (complex amino acids essential for life).   

Some of these have been shown to improve your brain’s performance. That’s because your hippocampus – the small, sea-horse shaped part of the brain responsible for memory - responds very well to these proteins.  

That means regular exercise will help you remember what you learn in lectures.  

Concentration  

Intense physical activity, like running, weight lifting and swimming, for example, increases the blood flow in your body, including your brain.  

While the obvious thing here is that you’ll be getting more oxygen (as red blood cells are responsible for carrying 02 to your muscles), there is something more.  

Boosting your blood flow also causes your neurons (or the brain electrical information cells) to fire more quickly, which in turn promotes cell growth especially in our old friend the hippocampus.  

Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of exercise before you sit down to study boost your concentration and help you focus on your learning.  

Mood  

You might have read about endorphins before. These hormones are linked in the media to every kind of positive emotion available.  

What is for certain is that they do promote happy feelings and you can get some by doing just a bit of exercise.  

Endorphins are known to reduce stress, meaning they can have a major impact on your wellbeing, especially when it comes to studying.  

Our advice, if you’re feeling overwhelmed do a little regular exercise every day to promote a positive outlook and put yourself in the mood to study.  

Energy  

While all of this is great when you need a sudden burst of motivation, what about the long-term prolonged effort that is needed to achieve the grades you deserve?  

Low-intensity exercise like walking or jogging is a great way of giving our energy levels a more permanent boost.  

It’s why there is a well-established connection between students who exercise regularly and academic performance.  

It’s a lifestyle change that will impact your mental health and creativity too, so what’s to lose?  

Feeling inspired to get out there and exercise for your mind? We’d love to hear the kinds of things you do to boost your energy levels at university.  

Share your thoughts with the University of Sunderland in London community on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using #WeAreSunLon. 

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