Run Hard When It's Hard to Run….Until You Get Hurt…

Crunch Time of the Semester…Literally

With finals week in view, I am hearing a lot of people say they “do not have time work out” because they have to study.  


My first thought is, “shouldn’t you have been studying all semester?”  After putting my foot in my mouth, I then thought about how exercise helps our brains, which over time might help us during finals week.

Modern technology has proven that exercise actually CAN make you smarter.  When your muscles contract, they send chemicals to your brain.  One of these is called “IGF-1,” which signals your neurotransmitters to produce brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).  This chemical is what leads to “higher thought.”

BDNF causes the brain’s nerve cells to branch out, connect, and communicate with each other in revolutionary ways.  Every time nerve cells connect, that signifies a new fact or skill that has been acquired and stored in the brain.  This makes sense, considering all of the “skills” that exercise fosters, such as balance, strength, hand-eye coordination, quicker reflexes, etc.  Brains with higher amounts of BDNF are better able to acquire and store knowledge.  On the other end, brains with low BDNF do not have a high capacity for knowledge. 

As humans age, they lose some of the individual neurons in their brain.  Scientists used to think that this damage was permanent; however, recent discoveries have proven that cardiovascular exercise can actually help the brain form new neurons.  Science speculates that aerobic exercise might increase the levels of BDNF, which may stimulate nerve growth.  One of the first skills to disappear with aging is matching names to faces.  Aerobic exercise has been proven to help with this because it supports growth of neurons in the hippocampus, which is the region of our brain that we use when we correlate names and faces. 

Overall, exercise increases blood flow throughout the brain, which helps the brain build new cells because it forms new capillaries.  Additionally, some athletes have more “astrocytes,” which are cells that support neurons and clean up neurotransmitters after they have relayed messages between cells.  This helps people focus, calm down, and act less impulsively.  Essentially, you are getting the benefits of a medication, without the side effects!  Alright!

Clearly, skipping your bio-chemistry to lift weights is not going to necessarily help you ace your test.  However, developing a consistent habit of regular exercise could prepare your brain for comprehending all of that nonsense in time for your final.  Happy studying!



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