Health and fitness is something valued in society and seen as a priority. We see the need to stay active and push our bodies to perform moves never done before, such as running a marathon or lifting one more rep. The habit of exercise can keep us moving, but when things become stressful and overwhelming, very few of us will choose the gym over work or studying. Instead, the majority of us delve further into our activities, which not only generates even more stress, but also makes us so exhausted that we can hardly imagine exercising. While this undivided attention on work seems to maximize efficiency, research shows that exercise can actually improve concentration.
Instead of toiling for seven hours straight on a task and succumbing to distractions, such as mindless snacking, taking an exercise break can actually help you stay focused. According to Ben Martynoga of The Guardian, studies on the effects of after-school sports classes on school children reveal that when the students got healthier, their their cognitive abilities also improved. Effective exercise doesn’t even have to be a full hour running or in the gym-- just 10 minutes of movement can reap similar results . In other words, while it may seem counterintuitive to take a break from a hard task (instead of finishing it all at once), a small break for activity can actually improve concentration and increase your productivity.
When stress is high, exercise also comes in as a handy tool to decrease stress and improve mood. We’ve all heard of the “runner’s high,” but how real is it? The Mayo Clinic has found that exercise helps increase the brain’s natural feel-good drug: endorphins. While the term “runner’s high” is more common, all forms of exercise can help you feel the mood-boosting benefits . Staying physically active during times of hard-work helps relieve feelings of stress and anxiety.
While the short-term effects of exercise on cognitive ability are clear, there are numerous long-term benefits of exercise that improve not only physical health, but also brain health. Harvard Health Publishing states that a consistent, moderately intense exercise improves memory by stimulating the release of the chemical brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which rewires our neural circuits to fire better .
Ultimately, the effects and benefits of exercise are far-reaching. There’s no doubt as to why we should value physical activity in our lives: not only does it improve our physical health, but it also enhances our cognitive ability and performance. Consistently exercising--even through busy times--provides us with countless advantages. In fact, exercising during those harderdays can make them a whole lot better for us too.
Ben Martynoga. How physical exercise makes your brain work better. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/18/how-physical-exercise-makes-your-brain-work-better (accessed 27 October 2018).\
Mayo Clinic. Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469 (accessed 27 October 2018)
Harvard Health Publishing. Regular exercise releases brain chemicals key for memory, concentration, and mental sharpness. https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/regular-exercise-releases-brain-chemicals-key-for-memory-concentration-and-mental-sharpness (accessed 27 October 2018)