This Is Why You Should Exercise To Learn Faster And Better

According to the brain-training industry, the brain is like a muscle. You need to work it constantly if you want to improve its learning function. This explains why so many children are increasingly found bent over their notebooks, solving more and more literacy exercises and numeracy tests by the minute.

But according to neuroscientist Gregory Berns, the brain is a “lazy piece of meat” that hates wasting too much energy. It doesn’t want to work too much – which explains why so many of us have a problem with imagination. For instance, if you’re someone who lives close to the beach, your brain is probably well versed with what a sunset by the sea looks like. The next time someone asks you to visualize any sunset by any sea, your brain will take the simplest way out by reactivating the same neurons that processed a similar kind of scene before. But try asking yourself to imagine a sunset on a planet like Saturn. You will find it much harder to come up with creative possibilities since your brain can’t rely on information shaped by past experiences.


However, it turns out that by taking your body for a brisk jog can spark that “meat-brain” and work your grey matter like never before. Here’s how.

What Research Says

Researchers recruited 40 healthy English-learning students and tested the effect of exercise on their learning skills


A study was published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS One) where researchers recruited 40 healthy college-going Chinese men and women who were attending classes to learn English.1 They did have facilitation with regard to learning this language but were reported being far from proficient.

The students were divided into two groups. The first group continued learning English as before – mainly while attending sessions of rote vocabulary-memorization. The second group supplemented their learning process by riding a stationary bike 20 minutes before the start of their lessons and continuing this exercise for about 15 minutes into the class.


Both groups had pictures that were screened on projectors along with their respective spoken and written names. Eight such vocabulary sessions were completed over the course of two months. After each session, the students were allowed to rest for a brief period and were then asked to participate in a vocabulary quiz. They were asked to note as quickly as possible if a word had been paired with the right picture. Sentences using these new words were also given to the students, where they were asked to mark if a sentence made sense or didn’t (linguists believe that true mastery of a new language can be judged by the correct understanding of sentences rather than a simple vocabulary improvement).2

Results Of The Study

Students who exercised during the learning stage showed a better grasp on the English language.


At the end of each lesson, the students who rode bikes while learning not only performed significantly better than their stationary counterparts but also showed more proficiency in understanding sentences though the latter was only observed after several weeks of instruction.

Also, when asked to return to the laboratory for a final test, one month after the lessons without any practice in between, the students on bikes were able to recall what they had learned much better than those who remained stationary.


What Does This Mean?

 Intense exercises that boost blood flow to parts of the brain associated both with learning and exercising.

Neurologists explain that certain parts of grey matter are used in both learning and exercising. Thus, fairly intense exercises like a brisk walk or bicycling can increase blood flow to these parts of the brain and fuel the learning process.


The key point to remember here is that one needs to do some really intense exercises that can get your heart pumping out blood at a faster rate in order to learn better. For instance, yoga won’t be as effective as cardio in helping you learn as yoga is aimed at calming your brain rather than making it work faster. On the other hand, aerobic exercises that work your muscles hard and make you sweat profusely boost blood circulation to your brain and increase the size of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that is associated with verbal learning and memory formation.3 This explains why parts of the brain that regulate thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise as compared to that of the brains of those people who lead a more sedentary lifestyle.4

Past studies have also shown that exercise triggers the release of various neurochemicals that increases the number of brain cells and improves communication between the neurons.5 These effects are thought to have a significant impact on the brain’s ability to learn new information.


Sleep, To Further Improve Your Memory

Sleep helps the brain retain important information that further helps in the learning process.

Each day, your brain makes plenty of connections and learns multiple new things with every passing hour, but not all of these are worth saving. So sleep is a time when your brain’s synapses consolidate this new information – storing the bits it needs in permanent memory and pruning back the ones that it doesn’t.

Studies show that when learning a certain task and recalling that same task were separated by a night of sleep rather than the same amount of time during waking hours, people recalled information much better.6

Furthermore, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is extremely important in memory formation and cognitive function. This is because, during REM sleep, your brain undergoes extremely high levels of neural activity. This is the final stage of sleep that is associated with dreaming, during which flashes of neural impulses are constantly relayed between the spinal cord, brain, and neighboring structures. This is also a phase where blood flow to the brain is at its highest, which further assists in memory consolidation and cognitive function.

Therefore, it is evident that good quality sleep is vital for improving your brain’s ability to store important information, which in turn, affects your learning process.