Exercising is probably one of the best ways you can drastically improve your life. A good workout can improve your mood, facilitate your metabolism and add self-confidence. Taking good care of one’s body is particularly important if you are a student, meaning lots of the work you do is sedentary, sitting and studying.
However, many students believe that exercise is secondary to activities like socialising with friends, or things that could make you smarter or improve your memory such as reading, playing board games, and making art. This is not necessarily true as the many benefits of exercising include improving your brain power. Still have your doubts? Read on to learn more about how working on your body could affect your brain.
1. Exercising Facilitates the Release of Dopamine and Serotonin
It’s no secret that a good workout could have a positive effect on your mood and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The secret is that exercise facilitates the release of 3 groups of chemicals: dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Dopamine affects your motivation, serotonin determines your long-term happiness and endorphins make you feel more energised.
How does all of this relate to brain power? Recently, analysts have linked shortages of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins to negative cognitive outcomes. A lack of serotonin, for instance, could be a source of reduced brain activity. If you’re struggling with negative thoughts and unable to concentrate on your studies or hobbies, a serotonin deficit might be to blame. Regular exercise should regulate brain chemicals on its own and could also be highly beneficial if you’re taking mood-altering medicine to cope with university related stress and anxiety.
2. Exercise Reinforces Discipline and Scheduling
Being committed to working out is not an easy feat. It can be incredibly difficult to leave your couch to do some deadlifts or squats, particularly if you’ve had a long day at work, school or university. Nevertheless, following a strict workout schedule could introduce significant benefits for your brain. For a lot of people, there is a certain satisfaction at following a specific routine.
By being disciplined, you’re creating a familiar environment for your mind. In turn, this means that your brain would no longer feel a strong need to react to unforeseen circumstances, strongly improving your concentration. Having a strict schedule incorporating a work out could also reinforce positive habits with your studies.
For instance, your brain would start to anticipate periods that demand high cognitive power (e.g. when you’re studying or working), meaning you’ll stop feeling groggy and tired when it’s least convenient. Just remember: don’t neglect your other hobbies and you should have an ideal schedule caring both for your mind and your body.
3. Exercise Helps You Sleep Better
Sleep is probably one of the greatest sinkholes of brain power there is. If you’re frequently catching yourself feeling tired, moody and unable to concentrate, a lack of sleep might be a source of these problems. However, it’s not just the quantity of sleep. How you sleep is also very important. If you’re snoring or suffering from sleep apnea, you might not get enough good sleep even if you spend at least 8 hours of your day snoozing.
Similarly, if you’re gorging on junk food or consuming alcohol too regularly, it will affect the depth of your sleep. If sleep has been bothering you, exercise could be a powerful tool for bringing your schedule and sleep quality back on track. In a recent study, independent researchers demonstrated that regular exercise produced a 25% reduction in sleep apnea after 12 weeks or working out.
Another benefit was increasing the time spent in ‘deep sleep’, a phase that allows the brain to rest and recharge. Exercise should also make you naturally tired, meaning you’d have less of an incentive to stay up all night procrastinating or binging Netflix. If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your sleeping habits, increasing the amount of exercise could be the way to go!
4. Exercise Improves the Health of Brain Cells
Like any other part of the human body, it is normal for the brain to decline with age. As the brain is composed of individual cells, the amount of blood flowing to these cells and the release of chemicals facilitating their growth are vital to brain power. When ageing, both of these factors take a severe hit, resulting in poorer memory and lower brain activity. If this sounds stressful, don’t worry!
A regular exercise could be just the thing for minimising any potential harm to your brain cells. Even better if you start now while your brain is young! Working out has been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, significantly improving the longevity of the brain cells. While the gradual deterioration of brain activity was impossible to reverse, exercise was a tool of ensuring that your brain would remain powerful for many decades. Another benefit of exercising is the creation of blood vessels, allowing your brain to receive more blood. This means that tasks that previously required a long time to complete (such as referencing your dissertation!), might seem like no big deal if you’re working out.
5. Exercise Could Change the Structure of Your Brain
It might seem far-fetched but regular exercise could make an active change to how your brain is organised. A recent study suggested that working out was responsible for growing the hippocampus, a section of the brain typically associated with memory, learning and cognitive capacity. Another advantage of exercising was constantly challenging your brain.
If you’ve ever done consecutive knee pulls or jump squats, you know that maintaining good posture requires great concentration and focus. By constantly creating new obstacles for your brain to overcome, you’re ensuring that your mind will stay sharp for other challenges you may encounter.
While the inner workings of the brain may seem mysterious at first glance, increasing your brain power is not that complicated. Maintaining a regular workout schedule should be a powerful tool for improving your sleep, addressing some mental health concerns you may have and strengthening blood vessels in your brain. If you’re feeling stressed, tired, overworked or simply not up to speed, lying on the couch and trying to rest may actually be a counter-productive solution. Instead, simply taking a walk or doing some warm-ups could make a drastic change to your brain power and quality of life.