Can’t seem to nail that essay? Go on a walk!

Elena Mychaliska (’23) shares research on how physical activity can help writers. “…exercise works to reduce stress, a common barrier to academic success.”

Throughout my life exercise has always been a type of self-care promoted by the ones around me. If I am stressed or upset, the advice I have received many times in the past is to go outside and move. This may be because it is fairly well known that physical activity improves mood. Something simple like going on a walk or even doing 20 jumping jacks can change your whole day. Although, how does physical activity affect academic performance? Can it be another tool in the toolbox of academic aids? 

Many institutions and scientists have looked into these exact questions. According to the University of North Texas, one’s physical health is possibly “one of the most important factors” in a student’s mathematics and reading success. The CDC conducted research that found that physical activity has a large, positive impact on academic performance, specifically cognitive skills, attitudes, and academic behavior. Additionally, a recent study in 2021 looked into this topic. In this study two groups of fourth graders experienced different levels of exercise in school. One group experienced the usual PE classes, while the other group had a higher intensity exercise throughout the day. The latter experienced higher academic scores. Overall, physical exercise has been shown to positively affect cognitive skills, concentration and attention span, behavior in the classroom, executive functions, reading, spelling, math, and test scores.

  Researcher Charles Basch from Columbia University explained this correlation via three main points. He posits that exercise affects the executive functioning of the brain by prompting increased brain-derived neurotrophins (responsible for learning, memory, and higher thinking), increased flow of oxygen to the brain, and increased brain neurotransmitters. Furthermore, Another researcher, Dr. Ratey, found that exercise works to reduce stress, a common barrier to academic success. By stabilizing the physical and emotional symptoms of stress, a person’s confidence and quality of life increases. All of these effects ultimately add up in the learning process. 

Sadly, in the U.S. recess stops being offered once students enter high school and many times there are very little physical education requirements to graduate. Although, this does not mean that exercise isn’t something that you can fit into your life. Next time you are feeling stressed with school work or just simply looking to better your overall health and satisfaction in all areas of your life, plan a short workout. If you prefer something guided, watch a 10 minute Youtube workout. If you love nature, go on a hike. In school you could take more PE oriented classes, or utilize extracurriculars by taking up a sport. Just workout for at least 60 minutes a day, as per the CDC’s recommendation, and watch your academic potential be seized!   

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