08 July, 2011
What Is the Relationship Between Physical Exercise & Learning Ability?
The health benefits of physical activity are well documented in the scientific literature. Study results published in 2010 in the "International Journal of Clinical Practice" identified 25 health conditions for which exercise provides some type of health benefit, whether it has a direct impact in prevention or achieves this goal through secondary effects. Scientific evidence supports the notion that physical exercise can have beneficial effects on brain function and health.
Exercise and Cognitive Function
Exercise increases circulation, which can have profound effects on learning ability. For a study published in 2007, researchers from the Medical College of Georgia looked at the effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function of overweight and sedentary children. After 15 weeks of regular exercise, test scores improved significantly over pre-trial results. The higher test results support the notion that students should be given adequate time to exercise during the regular school day.
Brain Activity and Learning
One explanation for this effect lies in the impact on brain activity. Study results published in 2011 in the journal "Health Psychology" found specific patterns of brain activity associated with exercise. The area of the brain affected was the prefrontal cortex, located in the anterior part of the brain. This area functions in problem-solving and complex thought, which can explain the mechanism for how physical exercise affects learning ability.
Exercise and Creativity
Another effect of exercise on the brain involves creativity ability. A study published in 2005 in the "Creativity Research Journal" found that aerobic exercise increased creativity potential in students engaging in moderately intense activity. The effects also persisted for two hours following exercise, adding to the health benefits physical activity provides. Where the 2007 study looked at cognitive function in adolescents, this 2005 study found similar health benefits with college-aged students, supporting the contention that the physical exercise can benefit brain function no matter what a person's age.
Exercise and Stress
An additional benefit of physical exercise is its effects on stress management. When you are stressed, you may find it hard to focus on what you're doing. Exercise can help relieve your stress — which can improve your ability to function better, explains MayoClinic.com. The increased circulation and the distraction exercise provides may be the key to improving your ability to concentrate.
- "International Journal of Clinical Practice"; What Men Should Know about the Impact of Physical Activity on Their Health; L. Alford; December 2010
- "Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport"; Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Overweight Children’s Cognitive Functioning; C. Davis, et al.; December 2007
- "Health Psychology"; Exercise Improves Executive Function and Achievement and Alters Brain Activation in Overweight Children: A Randomized, Controlled Trial; C. Davis, et al.; January 2011
- University of Washington: Functional Divisions of the Cerebral Cortex
- "Creativity Research Journal"; Aerobic Exercise and Creative Potential: Immediate and Residual Effects; David Blanchette, et al.; 2005
- MayoClinic.com; Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body, Feelings and Behavior; Feb. 19, 2011
- Daniel Slocum/iStock/Getty Images