Do you want to improve your capacity to learn and retain information? Research shows that exercise improves brain health; the key is blood flow. Blood flow increases everywhere in the body, including the brain, when you exercise. More blood flow means more energy and oxygen throughout your body, which results in better brain performance. Start your day with exercise to spike your brain activity, prepare you for any mental stresses you encounter throughout the day and increase retention of new information.
When you exercise there are several key hormones released:
- Serotonin (the mood booster)
- Dopamine (affects learning and attention)
- Norepinephrine (attention perception, motivation, and arousal)
Exercise acts like a natural antidepressant, so you will see changes in your productivity as well as your mental and emotional well-being.
My recommendation to get the most out of this brain performance trick is to add a consistent schedule of cardio every week. When you exercise to the point of breaking a sweat, you create more blood flow and increase oxygen compared to if you were sitting at your desk or couch. Still, any exercise is better than no exercise!
When you perform physical activity, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) increases, which stimulates the growth and proliferation of brain cells. Cell growth occurs in the hippocampus when you get your heart rate up. The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Recent studies indicate that aerobic exercise can reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which naturally happens as you age. Staying active as you get older will help you maintain the best possible brain health.
I started to get back into a consistent exercise schedule in January 2017 when I had extra time in my hands. I figured getting a gym membership would keep me busy. Little did I realize how much it would affect my everyday life.
Since starting my exercise regime, my days are more productive and I’ve taught myself a few brand new skills. I used my extra time with activities that were more mentally stimulating instead of watching Netflix and YouTube. I was going to the gym first thing in the morning, and no longer relied on coffee to wake me up. Once I got into the habit of exercising regularly, I started to wake up earlier and had so much more energy to do things for the rest of the day. Exercising also helps me handle stressful situations resulting in better problem-solving skills.
After a year and a half of the gym life, I’ve created a schedule full of activities and I love it! I honestly think the main reason I am able to handle a heavy workload with school, work and time for my hobbies, is because of my consistent exercise. I balance everything because I have better focus and the energy to complete the things I want to do. I procrastinate a lot less than I did before, which is great and allows me to hit deadlines sooner!
What should you do?
- Create a workout schedule you can follow. Remember to start slow and gradually increase the difficulty/length of your workouts. I started with 3 days a week, for only 30 minutes. Now I’m at 4-5 days for 1-1.5hours. The easiest workout is strolling your neighborhood.
- Cardiovascular exercise. The harder the workout, the bigger the reward and the more brain power you are giving yourself. If you’re feeling unproductive, try doing a short 1-minute burst of high knees, jumping jacks or squats.
- Stay motivated. Think about the future you! Create a goal and write it down, invite a friend to join you or sign up for a new class at the gym.