Relationship Between Exercise and the Brain and the Impact of Fitness on Learning

10 September 2019 | Views | By Ankit Kankar

Exercise is important to the body for a myriad of reasons including reducing the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, as well as for losing weight. Working out can also help to build a good physique and prevent depression as well as bring down the blood pressure. There is another benefit of exercising that is not well known, and that is that exercise helps the brain by protecting the memory and thinking skills, especially among those getting into old age, which is characterized by memory fog.

Image Source : Public Domain

Image Source : Public Domain

How exercise can improve learning

The book entitled Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain gives indisputable evidence to support the argument that exercise can help students do better in school. The book looks deeply at the relationship between exercise and the brain. It strongly supports that aerobic exercise improves the brain for great performance. The writer, Dr. John J. Ratey, Harvard Medical School’s associate clinical professor of psychiatry, notes that exercise enhances learning in three ways:

  • It makes your mindset better, thus enhancing alertness, attention, and motivation.
  • It prepares and promotes binding together of nerve cells, facilitating logging of new information
  • It encourages the development of new nerve cells from the hippocampus

Experiment to prove that exercise improves learning

One school set out to prove the point that exercise improves learning. The school started an early morning exercise program that they called Zero Hour whose aim was to determine if working out before school could improve students reading ability and other learning areas. The school registered improved performance in wellness as well as academic performance.

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Exercise may enhance students’ mental health

Dr.Rattey’s research also brings out another dimension by showing that exercise can help to prevent a significant number of health issues that can interfere with students' learning ability. Some of those issues that exercise helps to deal with include:


Students experience significant stress from their workload, peer pressure, and other factors, and this can affect their performance. Exercise not only regulates the physical and emotional effects of stress but also works at the cellular level. Physical activities help to naturally prevent the negative effects of chronic stress and reverse them. People who are active in physical activities also tend to be more socially active, thus improving their confidence and helping to start and keep social connections.


Those who manifest depressive symptoms can benefit from aerobic exercise. According to studies, exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, and they contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Workouts also boost the production of dopamine, which is responsible for good moods, and jump-start the concentration span. Students with depressive moods can benefit a great deal from thirty minutes of moderate exercise several days a week.

Anxiety and panic disorders

While anxiety is a natural response to threat, anxiety disorder is worrying despite there being no real threat to the point of becoming dysfunctional. On the other hand, a panic is an extreme form of anxiety. Students suffer panic attacks during tests and other situations in their school life. A significant number of studies show that aerobic exercise significantly minimizes the effect of anxiety disorder.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Exercise is also beneficial to students suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who find school a difficult environment due to the need to sit motionlessly, face one direction, and listen. These students can benefit from structured exercises like martial arts, ballet, gymnastics, and skateboarding.


Exercise has a close connection with the brain and plays a crucial role in learning. Giving students challenging fitness programs has many benefits. They help the student to build social relations, learn to mix up activities and stick to a routine, all of which are necessary for a healthy body and brain that promotes learning.


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