Exercise Regularly and Learn Better!
Regular exercise has many health benefits. These benefits are not just physical, but psychological as well, because exercise affects chemicals that alter one’s mood. It has been shown that physical therapy can act as an antidepressant for some people and can accelerate the recovery process for individuals who have suffered brain injuries or strokes. Apparently, exercise also has another advantage: it causes the brain to learn better. The positive effects of physical exercise demonstrated in adults most likely also occur in the brains of children (Blakemore and Frith, 2011).
With exercise, the capacity of cells to absorb oxygen is increased. This is true not only for the heart and lungs but for the brain as well. The biological changes resulting from physical activity enhance the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine). These substances activate neurons and contribute to neuronal stimulation and the formation of new synapses or neural connections. These synaptic connections are the basis of learning.
A study in the UK showed that when children do five minutes of simple exercises before class (such as moving their arms or jumping in place), they are more motivated and assimilate subjects more efficiently (see Blakemore and Frith, 2011). Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, sharpening the senses and improving concentration and mood.
Understanding how physical activity contributes to cognitive abilities helps children and adults develop healthy lifestyles. Promoting physical exercise during childhood, both at home and at school is useful. An easy example of this would be encouraging students to participate in sports that interest them and using bicycles in place of riding in cars.
The benefits of physical activity aren’t limited to just cognitive abilities either. Physical activity also helps children learn how their bodies work and, if done in a group, also develops important social skills like teamwork. Before school programs like BOKS (Build Our Kids Success), an initiative of the Reebok Foundation, show all kinds of benefits.
- Blakemore, Sarah-Jayne, and Uta Frith. 2011. The Learning Brain – Lessons for Education. Barcelona: Ariel.
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