As we near the end of March, our bright and shiny New Year’s resolutions about going to the gym and getting fit probably aren’t in the forefront of our thoughts right now. As the semester starts to heat up and the due dates and tests start to pile up, we’re probably skipping the gym in favor of finishing that essay that’s due in an hour.
However, going to the gym can actually help you perform better in school. So if you want to get fit but fear that it’ll get in the way of studying, this is some good news. Regular exercise can have great effects not only on your body, but also on your mind.
1. Boosting Grades
A study of 5,000 teenagers completed by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee found that for every 15 minutes of exercise, the student’s grades in English, math and science were raised by a quarter of a grade. The researchers then concluded that in order to raise academic performance by a full grade, 60 minutes of exercise per day was needed. What’s especially interesting is that the link between regular moderate-to-high-intensity exercise and academic performance was strongest for girls studying science. However, this study did find that very few students came anywhere close to a full hour of exercise each day, so their conclusion is not definitive.
2. Study Breaks
Good news for procrastinators — exercising before studying or doing schoolwork can help you be a more effective student. In a study done by researchers at the University of Hamburg, it was found that active people performed better on concentration-based and memory-based tests than inactive people. Interestingly, out of the three main groups of the study — those that cycled for 45 minutes, those that stretched for 45 minutes and those who were physically inactive — the cyclists performed best on the memory tests, while the people who stretched had the highest concentration-based test scores. These people all completed their exercise before taking these tests, suggesting that working out before studying may be beneficial to the brain.
3. Energy and Productivity
Who feels like reading that next chapter of the textbook when your eyelids are drooping and you’re dreaming about sleep? Energy is a key component to feeling productive and getting things done, and guess what? Exercise helps give you more energy. In your cells, the mitochondria (AKA the “powerhouse of the cell”) produce ATP, which your body uses as energy. Physical exercise promotes the production of more mitochondria, leading to more ATP production. This means you gain more energy from working out, and this energy can be used in nonphysical ways, such as studying.
4. Feel Happier
Exercise has been touted for a while as a sort of cure-all, and even being a recommendation for easing symptoms of depression. But why? We don’t entirely know why working out makes you feel happier, but researchers think it has to do with neurotransmitters in your brain. These neurotransmitters are chemicals that help reduce the pain involved in exercise, often leading to a “runner’s high.” Working out can cause these neurotransmitters to be released, increasing the pleasure involved in the activity. And since happier people tend to make better students, exercise may just help you ace that next test — and feel better while doing it.
5. Stress Reliever
Finally, exercise may help relieve the stress that stems from homework, job or relationships. Though there is debate as to whether stress is helpful or harmful, there does seem to be a middle-ground, common-sense answer, which is this: A little stress is OK. Too much stress is harmful. Hitting the gym can be a great stress-reliever, since it releases endorphins, a specific neurotransmitter that helps boost your mood and fight off stress. Exercise also can be viewed as a kind of meditation, as it helps focus the mind on a single task. Also, regular exercise helps promote deeper, better sleep, which is always a plus when decreasing stress levels.
As always, the line between physical and mental health remains blurry, but one thing is clear: One affects the other. So why not use that to your full advantage and amp up your workout routine? Even if you might not get that "beach body" you want, you'll still be reaping all the health benefits of exercise, as well as the mental benefits.
Lead Image Credit: Scott Webb via Unsplash