How does exercise help studying?
Have you ever wondered why people often say that exercise is important for helping you to study? When you are busy revising for exams you might think that you don’t have time to exercise. Now, I know I’m probably biased as I love running but exercise does help with studying and exams so here are three scientific reasons why this is the case.
Exercise reduces anxiety
Studying, especially near exams can be stressful, but the good news is that exercise can help to reduce this. Research has shown that exercise is effective at reducing state anxiety (anxiety felt at a specific moment). In one study (Long, 1984), exercising over a ten week period helped to reduce state anxiety for up to fifteen weeks after the study had ended. This suggests that exercising regularly could help to reduce stress related to studying. Exercise also reduces anxiety in the short term. This means that if you are feeling stressed a short amount of exercise may help to reduce this.
Exercise changes chemical levels in the brain
One of the reasons why exercise may help to reduce stress and anxiety is that exercise helps to alter chemical levels in your brain. When you exercise endorphins are released. These are hormones which can help to improve your mood and reduce stress. Exercising regularly means more endorphins may be released, leading to an accumulative positive effect on the brain.
Levels of another type of brain chemical called neurotransmitters can be changed through exercise. Some of these neurotransmitters are related to feelings of anxiety. By exercising the levels of them in the brain increase which helps to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Regular exercise also helps to reduce your response to stress. When you are stressed, stress hormones are released into the body by the brain. This increases feelings of anxiety, which is never helpful. However, with regular exercise it is possible that less stress hormones will be released in stressful situations (La Forge, 1995). This means that if you start exercising regularly a few months before your exams start, the chances are that you will feel less stressed during them.
Exercise improves cognitive function
Cognition (which is the brain’s ability to process information) can be improved by exercise. In particular working memory seems to be helped by exercising. Working memory is involved in the processing of information in the short term before it (hopefully) ends up in your long term memory. Improving this part of your memory could be helpful for studying when you need to hold different pieces of information in your memory at once, such as in maths. Again, regular exercise seems to have the most benefit on the brain.
So, it is clear that exercising is a good idea – it doesn’t need to be complicated, something like running (not that I’m biased) will do. And if you’re about to use the excuse of “not having enough time” then read my post on being more productive and add exercise into your weekly plan. I’m sure you find time to watch TV and go on Social Media…
Leave a comment to let me know if this post has helped persuade you to exercise more often 🙂
Colman, A. (2015) Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, St Ives, Oxford University Press.
Long, B. (1984) Aerobic conditioning and stress inoculation: A comparison of stress-management interventions, Cognitive therapy and research, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01173289 (Abstract only)
Tod, D., Thatcher, J., Rahman, R. (2010) Sport Psychology, Chippenham and Eastbourne, Palgrave Macmillan.
Weinberg, R. S., Gould, D. (2015) Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics.