When we talk about the benefits of exercise, we usually focus on physical health. And when I asked a group of middle schoolers why movement is important, they had a similar response: it’s good for your body.
But neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki argues that “exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today.”
Movement is often seen as a “break” from studying — and something we too often don’t have time to do. What if we instead reframed it as an essential study tool?
1. Exercise Improves Focus
According to Suzuki’s research, a single workout can improve a student’s ability to focus on a task for up to two hours. As she told me in an interview, when kids “run around, their brains are getting a bubble bath of good neurochemicals, neurotransmitters, and endorphins. These help memory and mood. A simple burst of exercise helps students focus better — to filter out what they do and do not need to pay attention to in class.”
2. Exercise Enhances Cognition
Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons. It produces a chemical called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which acts as a fertilizer, strengthening neurons and making them less susceptible to breaking down. Exercise supports our ability to sort through information, make decisions, focus and retrieve key information.
If you are bothered by a work dilemma or if your child is struggling with a homework assignment, stop and take a family walk. As Suzuki told me, “Even though it takes time from your workday, it will give you back time. You will be more productive if you take that time off. Even if it’s just a walk up and down the stairs or a walk around the block. That is a surefire way to make your work more productive.”
3. Exercise Extends Creativity
Have you ever had a great idea come to you while you were out on a walk or bike ride? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” He was onto something. In experiments out of Stanford, students who completed creative tasks while walking — such as coming up with unexpected uses for a paperclip — came up with more ideas than those who brainstormed sitting down.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of the brilliant new book “The…