How Exercise Enhances Intelligence, Productivity, and Well-Being

Andrew Mery

9/4/20232 min read

Many individuals recognize the positive physical outcomes associated with exercise. Engaging in physical activity diminishes the risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and eight distinct types of cancer. Furthermore, exercise facilitates weight management, enhances everyday task performance, potentially extends lifespan, and fosters the development of robust bones and muscles. However, did you know that exercise also possesses the capacity to enhance intelligence, productivity, and self-confidence? It can even combat stress and alleviate symptoms of depression. Beyond its disease-preventing, mood-boosting, and muscle-strengthening attributes, exercise significantly contributes to improved cognitive function in multiple ways.

When we engage in physical activity, the brain releases a substance known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF plays a pivotal role in the growth and upkeep of brain cells and supports various forms of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to establish and reorganize synaptic connections, which enable neurons to transmit electrical signals, ultimately generating knowledge and memories. BDNF facilitates four forms of neuroplasticity: neurogenesis, dendritogenesis, synaptogenesis, and synaptic strengthening. Neurogenesis entails the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus, which aids in short-term memory. Dendritogenesis enables the formation of fresh neural connections by sprouting dendrites, which are the branching arms with synapses extending from neurons. Synaptogenesis pertains to the formation of these synapses, while synaptic strengthening reinforces their efficacy. Consequently, exercising before acquiring new information enhances the brain's ability to absorb knowledge and establish new synapses, potentially leading to significant academic improvement. An examination conducted by the University of Illinois even revealed a positive correlation between cardiovascular fitness and academic performance. In essence, BDNF acts as a nourishing agent for knowledge.

Additionally, exercise can alleviate stress symptoms and promote relaxation, a notion that may initially appear counterintuitive. How can something so physically demanding lead to relaxation? Well, as you become accustomed to exercise, you will discover its ability to boost your spirits and alleviate worries. Exercise accomplishes this by reducing cortisol, the body's stress hormone designed to prepare us for "fight or flight" situations. While this response is essential in response to physical threats, mental stress is far more common. Exercise essentially tricks the body into believing it has escaped a threat, causing cortisol and adrenaline secretion to cease once the physical activity is completed. It is important to note that exercise briefly elevates cortisol levels, so moderation is key to avoid potential harm. Moreover, exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, often referred to as the "runner's high," which imbue individuals with feelings of optimism and serenity during and after workouts. This, combined with reduced cortisol levels, contributes to an overall sense of happiness.

Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can be achieved in numerous ways, including playing sports, walking, working out, running, hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and more. Each of these activities offers a wide array of mental and physical benefits. The next time you find yourself working on a substantial assignment, preparing for an exam, or feeling a bit low, consider going for a walk around the block, engaging in a sport, or completing a workout. You'll be rewarded with a surge of BDNF and endorphins! Even taking a brief five-minute break to move around can be immensely helpful. If academic improvement is your goal, get moving.