Weekly Digest #31: Exercise and Learning

Weekly Digest #31: Exercise and Learning

We have previously written about ways that cognitive psychology can improve physical activity (or more specifically learning a new dance!), but what about the effect of exercise on learning? We already know that our bodies affect our minds from our research on sleep, but exactly how does physical exercise benefit learning and cognitive processing? Take a look at the resources below for the answers!

Image from Pixabay.com

Image from Pixabay.com

1) How Physical Exercise Instantly Makes You a Better Language Learner by Noel van Vliet, @NoelVanVliet

In this blog post, several bits of research are reviewed which demonstrate that brief aerobic exercise prior to learning can have benefits on both attention and long-term retention.


2) How Exercise Can Help Us Learn by Gretchen Reynolds, @GretchenReynold

Should exercise take place before, during, or after learning? How vigorous should the exercise be? This piece examines two studies with seemingly contradictory advice, which essentially provide evidence that learning during exercise is ideal IF the exercise is light and that the effects will get stronger over time (not immediately after exercising/learning.


3) Delayed Exercise After Learning May Improve Memory by Zawn Villines

Here again is a research summary examining when it is best to exercise to boost learning. In this summarized research study, the bottom line was that students should learn, wait a few hours, and THEN exercise.

Image from Pixabay.com

Image from Pixabay.com


4) Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills by Heidi Godman, @HarvardHealth

In this article, the author provides explanations for why exercise improves cognitive processing. There are also additional research studies summarized demonstrating when exercise benefits learning.


5) Speaking of Psychology: Keeping your Brain Fit by Tracey Shors

In this podcast, Dr. Tracey Shors discusses how exercise leads to neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) in the area of our brain responsible for forming new long-term memories. In other words, exercise allows for more learning!

From Speaking of Psychology main page, American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/default.aspx)

From Speaking of Psychology main page, American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/default.aspx)


BONUS: Speaking of Psychology: Protecting Your Aging Brain by Glenn E. Smith

While this podcast does not directly relate to learning or education, they do discuss a topic of great concern: how to stave off dementia. As it turns out, exercise is a key component in protecting our brains from cognitive impairment later in life.

Bottom Line

Many of the above articles have conflicting conclusions (depending on the research summarized). Some say you should exercise just before learning, some say during, some say an hour after! So what should we take away from it all? The key to exercise is to make it a regular part of your routine. In all of the above studies, the exercise was not intense, so moderate activity on a regular basis should improve cognitive processing, including attention in the short-term and retention of information in the long-term.

Every Sunday, we pick a theme and provide a curated list of links. If you have a theme suggestion, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Our 5 most recent digests can be found here:

Weekly Digest #26: How To Manage Group Work

Weekly Digest #27: Resources for Teaching Content Curation

Weekly Digest #28: The Effectiveness of Study Groups

Weekly Digest #29: Why do You Procrastinate, and What Can You do About it?

Weekly Digest #30: Learning and Attention