A New Study Says Exercise Can Change Your Brain in a Big Way

Kaitlyn McLintock

Whether it’s a daily yoga class, early morning HIIT training, or just a simple stroll around the block, everyone knows that exercise is great for the body and mind. It clears our heads and encourages better decision-making, patterns of positive thinking, and the dissolution of anxiety.

It can also increase feelings of confidence and self-love (which, let’s be honest, we could all use a little bit more of). All of these wonderful benefits combine to make us generally happier and healthier people—and being happier and healthier means being more effective at our work and play. It’s a win-win situation, right?

Well, researchers are now saying a sweat session might do even more for our cognition processes than we thought. According to The New York Times, a new study published by the Public Library of Science shows that exercise may improve the speed at which we learn, helping us absorb and retain more information.

Keep reading to learn more about the published research.

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For the purposes of the study, researchers monitored 40 Chinese men and women on their journey to learn English. They were randomly split up into two groups. The first group learned in a traditional classroom setting, sitting down at desks to memorize vocabulary. The second group would exercise on stationary bikes while completing the same task. After the learning period, students would take a quiz that tested them on the lesson. Over the course of two months, the students took eight tests in total.

The findings were significant. The group who rode the stationary bikes performed significantly better on these tests than the control group. Both the speed and percentage of accuracy of their responses were statistically better. “The results of the study are clear-cut: learning a foreign vocabulary while performing a concurrent physical activity yields better performance than learning the same vocabulary while being in a static situation.”

Interestingly enough, the benefits lasted long-term. When researchers called the participants back a month after the study ended, the cyclists remembered more material than their stationary counterparts. “The results suggest that physical activity during learning improves that learning,” Simone Sulpizio, a professor of psychology and linguistics at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, and a study co-author, told The NYT.

“We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles,” she says. “A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.” There you have it. Next time you're studying up for an important test or work project, mix some movement into your day. It might help more than you know.

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