A healthy body, a better brain, and an excellent GPA sound like a pretty good idea to me. And scientists have found that these three things have one very important factor in common: regular aerobic exercise. Preliminary studies have found that exercise could be the key not only to physical and emotional health, but also to sharpening our brains to their fullest potential. That’s right: Exercise can make us smarter.
How does it work? Your brain spends a lot of energy controlling your body—it burns glycogen, or stored carbohydrates. Glycogen is also essential to higher brain function,
since it fuels your thinking, too. When you’re exercising, which makes pretty strenuous demands on your brain, you’re burning through your stores of glycogen pretty quickly.
Scientists, interested in the effect of exercise on the amount of glycogen in the brain, studied two groups of mice. One group put on sweatbands and worked out every day; the other group stayed on the couch and watched reruns. The exercising mice were the lucky ones, though. After rest and some carbs, the brains of the exercising mice not only replenished their energy stores, but had produced an excess of energy. Scientists found as much as 60 percent more glycogen in all the portions of the brain that allow us to think quickly and to remember more clearly.
It was as if the physical activity had allowed their brains to be super-fueled, allowing those mice to ace their mid-terms. Sadly the effect was only temporary—the levels of glycogen dropped back to normal within about 24 hours.
But here’s the great part: if the animals continued to exercise, scientists found that the levels of energy in the brain didn’t just increase temporarily—they stayed that way. Even better, the increases were especially large in the parts of the brain that are critical to learning and memory.
So what does this mean? Well, we should definitely be exercising when we’re studying for a test, super-fueling those brains right when we need it. But more importantly, we should be exercising regularly. Health professionals recommend at least 150 minutes each week of moderate aerobic activity–just twenty minutes a day. I can do that!
I’m off to renew my gym membership, as soon as I figure out where I left my sneakers.
Sara Nelson is the Social Media Guru for California College San Diego, overseeing the college’s profiles on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and more. She is also a student in the Master in Business Administration (MBA) program, and she enjoys spending time with her family, listening to good music, and eating freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.