Can Exercise Boost Your GPA?


By Staff Writer Published on January 26, 2018

A healthy body, a sharp mind, and good grades are worthy goals for so many college students. What if there was one simple thing you could do to improve all three? Physical fitness, optimum cognition, and an exceptional GPA have all been scientifically proven to improve with one common factor: regular exercise. Exercise improves physical and emotional health, but it could also be the key to unlocking the fullest potential of our brain power. Regular physical activity can raise your IQ.

 

How It Works

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. Glycogen is what fuels physical activity and cognition. The brain needs glycogen to function properly with the demands of thought processes associated with academic endeavors. Physical activity is taxing on the brain and can exhaust glycogen stores quickly.

Scientific Research

Exercise Fuels the Brain

In one study, scientists observed how the amount of exercise affects glycogen levels in the brain with two groups of mice. One group had regular daily exercise, the other group of mice was sedentary. The mice with regular physical activity exhibited better overall performance. After the active mice rested and ate carbohydrates, their energy stores were not only replenished, but their energy level had actually increased. In this study, scientists were able to identify up to 60% greater levels of glycogen in the areas of the brain necessary for focused cognition and clear memory.

The mice who exercised experienced a surplus of glycogen stores to fuel brain activity, resulting in optimal cognitive performance. Glycogen levels returned to normal after about 24 hours. However, the scientists discovered that with regular physical activity, this abundance of glycogen stores remained—especially in the areas of the brain necessary for memory and learning.

Exercise Increases the Size of the Brain

In another study at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular moderate aerobic exercise actually increased the size of the hippocampus. The role of the hippocampus in the brain is with learning and verbal memory. The same results cannot be achieved with only strength training. Cardio workouts that really get your blood pumping are necessary for positive neural health benefits.

Studies have shown that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex (areas of the brain that control memory and thinking) of individuals who get regular physical activity are larger than those who are more sedentary. Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurology instructor at Harvard Medical School and a neurologist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that these results are seen when someone is involved in regular aerobic physical activity for six months to a year.

Chemical Balance

The improved blood flow to the brain and development of new blood vessels, increased glycogen stores, and the release of growth factors (chemicals that maintain brain cell health) all work together to not only help the brain function at its best, but aid in the development and survival of new brain cells. The hippocampus and prefrontal and medial temporal cortices are all profoundly impacted by aerobic exercise.

As a college student, your ability to learn course material and remember it is critical. We all know that a healthy diet and enough sleep is important for brain health, but the evidence from scientific research that supports exercise as an important factor in maintaining neural health is overwhelming. The brain is an organ that needs to be taken care of physiologically just like any other part of the body. Exercise provides the blood flow and chemical balance necessary for proper function and growth.

Moderate Exercise 150 Minutes Per Week

What is the takeaway? Regular exercise gives your brain the fuel it needs to perform at peak efficiency for memory and cognitive function—precisely what is needed for academic performance. The simple answer is, yes. Exercise can boost your GPA if your level of physical activity is regular enough. Medical and fitness professionals say that you need at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week for the best brain performance.

What Is Moderate Aerobic Activity?

Specific examples are always helpful. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Jumping rope
  • Singles tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Horseback riding

The key to physical activity is to keep it regular. Exercising one day a week isn’t sufficient to maintain the level of glycogen stores needed for the desired neural effects. Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week is all it takes to keep your brain in top condition.

Exercise benefits more than just your academic performance. It lifts your mood and helps regulate your sleep cycles. If you get regular exercise you’ll be happier, well-rested, and smarter. What are you waiting for? Dust off your sneakers and get moving.