Research shows different activities have quite specific mental effects – here’s how moving your body could sharpen your ideas. The brain is often described as being “like a muscle”. It’s a comparison that props up the brain training industry and keeps school children hunched over desks. We judge literacy and numeracy exercises as more beneficial for your brain than running, playing and learning on the move.

But the brain-as-muscle analogy doesn’t quite work. To build up your biceps you can’t avoid flexing them. When it comes to your brain, an oblique approach can be surprisingly effective. In particular, working your body’s muscles can actually benefit your grey matter.

Scientists are showing that the runner’s high and the yogi’s tranquility have profound effects on your brain. Moreover, specific physical activities can markedly alter its structure in precise ways.

A wave of studies exploring the unexpected links between mental and bodily fitness is emerging from labs. This research might give you the impetus to get more active. It can also help you choose the best ways to prepare physically for mental challenges such as exams, interviews and creative projects.

The part of the brain that responds strongly to aerobic exercise is the hippocampus. Well-controlled experiments in children, adults and the elderlyshow that this brain structure grows as people get fitter. Since the hippocampus is at the core of the brain’s learning and memory systems, this finding partly explains the memory-boosting effects of improved cardiovascular fitness.

As well as slowly improving your memory hardware, exercise can have a more immediate impact on memory formation. German researchers showed thatwalking or cycling during, but not before, learning helped new foreign language vocabulary to stick. So exercise while you revise. Don’t push it too hard, though: vigorous workouts can raise your stress levels, which can scupper your memory circuits.

Besides making memories stickier, exercise can help you focus and stay on task. The best scientific evidence comes from testing school children, but the same most likely applies to us all. Interspersing lessons with 20-minute bouts of aerobics-style exercise improved the attention spans of Dutch school pupils. Meanwhile, a large randomised controlled trial in the US looked at the effects of daily after-school sports classes over a school year. The children, of course, got fitter. Less predictably, their executive control improved. They became more adept at ignoring distractions, multitasking, and holding and manipulating information in their minds.

Read more/Lire la suite : How physical exercise makes your brain work better | Education | The Guardian

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