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Let’s Get Physical: 8 Ways Exercise Can Help Your Brain

Written by Krysten McCumber

I may be out of school, but oh do I remember THOSE nights: getting home, laying out my notes and outlines, making a bowl of noodles, totally ready to accomplish something… and end up watching a couple hours of Netflix and YouTube.

THEN I’d be ready to rock my homework, study for a test or pump out a presentation… naturally all due the next day. Little did I realize until my second year of college that taking an hour to workout was what I had been missing in this delicately planned, horribly unproductive schedule. All of a sudden I had the motivation, confidence and energy to tackle my projects and still have time for a couple episodes of Scandal. Apparently it’s all thanks to endorphins (I’ll get to them).

Don’t take it from me, take it from my good friend Chris White. He just completed his masters in neuroscience at the University of Guelph, and actually spent the last year looking at the relationship between your brain and body. Also, he happens to be acing all of his classes and labs AND has a killer body thanks to his regular workout routine. Here are Chris’ top reasons to hit the gym before the books:

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Sorry if that song is now stuck in your head, BUT exercise does just that: it makes you happy! Endorphins, a bunch of hormones in your brain and nervous system, are released when you work out and those buddies make you feel good. Even better than catching up on The 100, I swear. Being in a good mental place can make a world of difference when you’re trying to remember or write for a project.

Warm Up Your Brain 

You know how you should always “warm up” before running or lifting weights? Well, you should definitely follow the same advice before a test or presentation. Increasing the blood flow to your brain helps bring it nutrients and feed it (only the healthy stuff, of course). Get pumped up and feel the burn as your warm up your body AND your brain before your deadline.

Just Sweat it Off

Taking your mind off of the stress of your project or test isn’t easy. Except it totally can be. Blast some music and hit the pavement, or stretch your body and hit the gym. Either way, set a goal for yourself: five kilometetres, an extra set of lifts, anything! Your brain will focus for this allotted time and when you accomplish your goal it’s going to feel great! Voila, a beneficial distraction that has your body rebooted and your brain feeling more confident than ever. You, my friend, are ready to hit the books!

Sleep Like a Baby 

YES, I’m endorsing more sleep! This isn’t a prank, it’s science. More sleep = better brain function, which is really what you need. You know how after a late night out you hit the hay? Well, this is the healthier version to relax your brain and let your body chill out before it performs. A workout is going to make you tired, so give in and sleep the recommended 8 hours!

Bonus tip: My mum always swore putting your notes under the pillow helped you remember… it could be worth the extra luck!

Take your pick…

Runner’s High 

The “runner’s high” goes back a LONG time. I mean it, we’re talking cavemen here. Running gives you a natural high because it was meant to help you catch food in “survival mode.” Well, since we don’t need to worry about hunting down a squirrel, you can focus in on taking yourself on a new route (or your first route) around your neighbourhood. It’s going to give you that endorphin increase to make you feel happy, healthy and ready.

Tip: You can walk too! Just keep a good pace, maybe even sweat a bit, and you’ll be benefitting from those endorphins in no time (or 30-ish minutes).

Feel the Burn 

Running isn’t your style? Truthfully, mine either. Take to the weights and feel the burn. Add a set or five pounds and see how good it feels to have your muscles do their thing. Use any and all stress and anger you have into pushing yourself to the next step at the gym. You’ll leave that place looking and feeling amazing. Oh, and completely ready to rock that project you were stressing about with a fresh mind (and fresh body after a shower).

Whether you choose to run (or walk) or lift weights, these exercises are going to help you mentally. Take that break, feel good and be happy! It’s going to happen anyways (thank you endorphins) so you might as well embrace it and use it to your advantage!

Don’t Go Crazy 

Now, of course these exercises are meant to relieve stress and help you focus your mind somewhere else – you need a mental break! However, I’m not saying to go Hulk on the pavement or weights and hurt yourself. Give yourself a break, clear your head and take a 30-minute stroll around the block, or do a couple interval sets around the gym. Extending your body too far is going to have your brain focussing on pain, rather than the paper you have left to write. So go for it and reach your goal, just use it as a tool not a punishment.

Just Go Bananas

Fun fact of the day: Bananas will make you have a Super Brain. Not ENTIRELY true, but eating them WILL give your body more potassium and natural glucose (sugar), which helps with memory and brain power. I bet those sound kind of perfect right about now! So grab a banana from Starbucks or your school’s cafeteria while studying and on your way to class. Always remember that no matter how stressful your year is becoming you can release some endorphins, rock your project or test, and always have some time to go bananas.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.