Physical exercise and academic success are common topics for New Year’s resolutions. However, this is the time of year when many New Year’s resolutions, especially those pertaining to physical fitness, are abandoned. With work, family and school responsibilities it already seems like there is too much to schedule into the short winter days. It’s important to get the most out of every minute. But that is exactly why it’s important to lace up the sneakers and head out for a walk or off to the gym. There is evidence of a strong connection between physical exercise and academic success. Physical exercise can help people work more effectively.
Most of the research that connects physical exercise and academic success involves walking, but, “It’s likely that other forms of aerobic exercise that get your heart pumping might yield similar benefits,” says Dr. McGinnis. Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. This happens because aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area that is involved in verbal memory and learning.
Several studies shows a positive relationship between factors concerning physical fitness and academic success. In addition to improving brain functioning involved in memory, studies show that regular physical activity improves students’ ability to focus for longer period of time. The results can add up. Dr. Heather Sanderson at North Carolina State University says that an increase of one extra hour per week of physical activity resulted in a .06 GPA improvement. That’s a small result. But if a student who doesn’t work out at all starts working out for three hours a week, there would be a .18 GPA increase, “which is a major impact,” says Sanderson. One extra hour per week of physical activity also increased the odds of graduation by 49 percent.
Mike McKenzie, Exercise Physiology Sports Medicine at Winston-Salem University chair, cites several studies that show positive links between physical exercise and academic success. One study at Saginaw Valley State showed that students who studied over three hours a day were 3.5 times more likely to be exercisers. And students who have GPA about 3.5 were 3.2 times more likely to be regular exercisers than students with a GPA below 3.0.
Three Reasons Why
This link between physical exercise and academic success happens because of three human physiology and behavior changes, says Dr. Niket Sonpal, Touro College or Osteopathic Medicine:
First, he says, adding exercise to your schedule requires time management. “Scheduling personal workout time forces college students to also schedule study time and this teaches them the importance of block timing, and prioritization of their studies.”
Second, exercise fights stress that can come from work, family and school responsibilities. Getting rid of stress is important for academic success. “Stress hormones inhibit memory production and your ability to sleep: two key things needed to score high on exams.”
Third, exercise induces better sleep, and this will improve your memory and cognitive function. “Better sleep means moving your studies from short term to long term memory during REM.”
For students who think there is absolutely no time to exercise, experts say that even a few minutes here and there yields positive results. Jennifer Turgiss of Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions says that sitting for long periods of time, such as students may do during classes or study periods, can have a negative health effect. It’s easy to overcome this with a five-minute walk every hour, she says. Her study showed that “In addition to the beneficial impact of physical activity on levels of energy and vigor, spreading out physical activity throughout the day improved mood, decreased feelings of fatigue and affected appetite.”
This is important for students who also have family and work responsibilities that go from early morning and stretch into school time in the evenings. “Having more mental and physical energy at the end of a day that requires a lot of sitting, such as a student’s day, can leave them with more personal resources to do other activities,” Turgiss says.
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