Exercise helps us think better and offers a wide range of benefits for our well-being. They are well-known and heavily supported with studies and scientific data. However, new findings are continually being unearthed that help us better understand what exercise is doing to our bodies and our brains.
After being cooped up inside all day, your afternoon stroll may leave you feeling clearheaded. This sensation is not just in your mind. A growing body of evidence suggests we think and learn better when we walk or do another form of exercise. – Justin Roberts, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois
So, exercise boosts your cognitive functioning and improves your memory, but how exactly does it do that? One of the ways is through improved blood flow. Rhodes writes:
Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.
The hippocampus is a brain structure that is important for memory function, but what relation does it have to exercise? Rhodes responds:
Another explanation for why working up a sweat enhances our mental capacity is that the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, is highly active during exercise. When the neurons in this structure rev up, research shows that our cognitive function improves. For instance, studies in mice have revealed that running enhances spatial learning. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boost memory in older adults. Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers.