Exercise Can Build A Better Brain
The brain grows and learns with each new experience. To the brain, exercise is a unique experience. Research has shown that exercising the body not only builds bigger and stronger muscles, but it stimulates the release of neurotransmitters that create more neurons which can improve the ability to learn as well as the rate of learning.
- When we exercise, we produce more BDNF, serotonin, and building block proteins.
- The cerebellum (which coordinates body movement and balance) is connected to the prefrontal cortex (involved in movement, memory, language, social behavior, problem-solving, decision-making, emotion, and personality) by neurons. They work together.
- When you’re exercising, you are working the body, but you are also working the part of the brain responsible for many cognitive functions.
- The blood-brain barrier is a web of capillaries with tightly packed cells that keeps out intruders like bacteria from getting into your brain. It acts as a gatekeeper to the brain.
- Because the brain sees physical activity as a new experience, physical movement and exercise stimulate the production of BDNF, which provides the brain with more building blocks for learning. Exercise actually grows new brain cells.
- New brain cells and need fuel, so VEGF builds more capillaries in the body and the brain.
- During exercise, IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), and FGF (fibroblast growth factor) can push through the blood-brain barrier to let the proteins through. These proteins feed the brain.
- As we age, these growth factors naturally decline. There is also a drop in these factors with stress and depression. Understanding the role they play makes it easy to understand why stress makes learning more difficult on a cellular level.
- During intense exercise, the blood shifts away from the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. But right after exercise, blood flow shifts back, and because the exercise itself has created more of the brain chemicals and proteins great for learning, this would be the best time to focus on the tough stuff. There are new brain cells in place, and nutrients are available for expanding and strengthening new neural networks.
- Learning complex movements create more complex neural networks that can then be used for learning. Mastering a difficult dance sequence, juggling combinations, playing an instrument, or learning a tricky move in basketball actually makes it easier to read, write, and do math.
- During the practice it takes to go from the awkward stage of learning to the point in which movements seem effortless and looks beautiful the neural connections are being used over and over again, creating more myelin, making them thicker and faster. The speed of transmission is increased, which equals more efficient, beautiful movement simultaneously building more brainpower for learning other things.
How can educators connect to the benefits of exercise? How can teachers help students not only learn the benefits of exercise on the body but also on the brain?