Want to get better grades? Lace-up your sneakers!
As students of all ages prepare to go back to school, research suggests that sneakers, not scribblers, should top the list of school supplies. Dr. Scott Leith, data scientist and research psychologist with GoodLife Fitness, explains exercise stimulates brain growth, diminishes stress, contributes to better self-control, speeds up thinking, and more – all of which can translate to better grades.
Here are some of the ways exercise impacts classroom performance:
- Focuses attention. Even one workout has been shown to increase focus. Exercise improves multitasking ability, sustained focus, reaction times, and time on task in the classroom.
- Reduces stress. Physical activity helps mitigate the impact of life’s various stressors. Stress and mental health are larger concerns for today’s youth, and research shows regular exercise buffers us against the potentially damaging effects of tight deadlines and overwork. Further, exercise has a powerful impact on mental health – particularly in alleviating depression and anxiety.
- Improves speed and flexibility of thought. People usually think brain and brawn are separate, but they actually go together. Even single workouts can improve the brain’s processing speed, decision-making ability, and memory capacity.
- Grows more neurons. Exercise supports neurogenesis, the production of new neurons in parts of the brain that govern memory and physical learning. When you hit the gym, you’re not just building bigger muscles, you’re building a bigger brain.
- Increases academic performance. Studies repeatedly show that exercise has a positive effect on the grades of elementary school children, high school students, and university undergraduates. The effects are particularly strong in math.
Brain-building workoutsIt’s clear that our brains benefit from any and all exercise, but Leith suggests the most effective type of physical activity should be fun and engaging. Workouts that require you to learn new moves and replicate them and sports that require you to react quickly, like soccer or tennis are also great for mental and physical agility. Leith suggests building these kinds of exercises into your regular workouts:
Get your heart pumping. Activities like running, swimming, biking, and walking help build cardiovascular stamina, which encourages better brain function overall. Cardio is also good for reducing stress and improving focus. A brisk 20-minute walk or jog is a perfect study break to help you clear your mind and return with renewed focus. Stuck inside, just do some jumping jacks or walking lunges to refresh your mind.
Play a sport. Any activity where you have to think strategically and move quickly promotes better brain function and mental agility. Sports like soccer or tennis require us to control our movements and plan our next move on the fly, which helps build neural pathways and trains us to focus.
Try low-intensity mind-body exercise. Mind-body exercises like yoga or tai chi require us to focus on specific muscles while moving through a series of positions. This kind of physical activity is great to reduce stress and practice mindfulness. These kinds of exercises prompt us to control our muscles and hold them for a sustained time – strengthening the connections and control between mind and body.