Can exercise make you smarter? For a long time, the link between exercise and academic achievement has been explored, but only on a small scale. It is well-documented that the brain releases a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that works to calm and relax you after exercise. Additionally, the longer you exercise and the higher the level of intensity, the more likely that endorphins, or feel-good hormones, will be released, also producing a feeling of well-being.
But does exercise actually make your brain more agile?
Researchers in Finland, a country with one of the best school systems in the world, have begun to examine the connection between physical activity, academic achievement, and the way these two are linked. The project is called Active, Fit, and Smart (AFIS), and its goal is to “…explore how physical activity and fitness are linked to academic achievement, cognitive functions, brain properties and executive functions at different ages, both in children and adults.”
Tuija Tammelin heads the project through Finland’s research program The Future of Learning Knowledge and Skills. There are three subprojects in this study. The first subproject looks at how physical fitness affects learning, cognition, and academic achievement at all stages of a person’s life and will be longer in scope, using cohort studies to examine the connections, either positive or negative.
The second subproject will look at how the structural integrity and function of the brain is affected by either lifelong physical activity or inactivity, and the final project will use animal models for a physical examination of the brain that will look at both intrinsic (already existing) and acquired levels of fitness to see what the physical structures are.
Researchers hope that examining large data sets on multiple levels in an interdisciplinary manner will yield conclusive information on physical activity’s effect on memory, attention, information processing, and problem solving. 19 teams will look at 11 different projects between 2014 and 2017. These projects should provide baseline data on how physical activity affects the brain. Educators, researchers, parents, and anyone else who works with learners of any age should benefit from these research findings.
Have you seen evidence of the connection between physical activity and learning?
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