In one study, volunteers who exercised for three months showed a 30% increase in newly formed capillaries (blood vessels that will nourish new neurons) in the hippocampus, one part of the brain that is strongly associated with memories and emotion.1
Stress limits your ability to be creative
Stress, on the other hand, limits your ability to be creative. Exercise is well known for decreasing general stress. Under high levels of chronic stress, your hippocampus begins to atrophy and levels of BDNF decrease. But the good news is that exercise can protect people from the loss of BDNF caused by stress in addition to nourishing the hippocampus.
People learn faster after exercise
Another study showed that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster following high intensity exercise than after low intensity exercise or after resting. Not only that, high intensity exercise also led to larger increases in BDNF and neurotransmitters2 as compared to lower intensity exercise. I think that a 20% percent increase in learning is a big deal. It’s a whole day of school out of a week. Your ability to remember and process new information increases significantly when you exercise. But do take note that you can’t learn very well while you are in the very midst of exercising at high intensity. That’s probably okay with you. I don’t personally know anyone who memorizes vocabulary words while sprinting.
After that sprint, however—watch out! You are primed to learn.
1. Ratey J. (2008) Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
2. Winter,B., Breitenstein, C., Mooren, F.C., Voelker, K., Fobkes, M., et al. (2007). High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 87(4), 597-609