Everybody knows that exercise is good for you. It is a key factor in weight loss and phExercise1ysical health, plus it can boost your overall energy level, reduce stress levels, and help you sleep better at night. But did you know that physical fitness also has a direct correlation with the brain’s ability to learn? Scientific studies have shown that regular exercise makes students better learners, which c an lead to stronger GPAs and higher standardized test scores. Here’s what you need to know: 

When you exercise, your brain is flooded with a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Nicknamed “Miracle-Gro” for the brain, BDNF essentially works by stimulating your neurons (the cells in your brain) en masse, allowing your brain to make connections more easily. Right after exercising, your child is primed to learn and store new skills and information. This is the best time to learn new SAT vocabulary, do math homework, or study for a test. Even a morning run right before school can make a student’s performance in first period drastically improve.

Exercise2If your child is struggling with their studies, why not add exercise to the mix and see if it helps? Here’s how to get started:

1. Find something fun. Not every kid thrives in team sports, and that’s fine! If your child doesn’t enjoy competition or doesn’t have the athletic skill to go out for a team, find another way to get him or her engaged in physical activity. Focus on cardiovascular and skill-based exercises, like biking, dancing, kayaking, running, rock climbing, anything really that gets your heart rate up for an extended period of time. Learning a new exercise skill while your heart rate is raised can facilitate faster learning of other skills, like reading, post workout. The key is to find something your kid won’t hate, maybe even like—otherwise they won’t develop fitness strategies that will extend into adulthood. If your child can link positive emotion with exercise, they will keep it up for the rest of their lives.

2. Make a fitness schedule. This can mean signing your child up for classes, enrolling them on a team, or coming up with workouts for them to follow on their own. Daily exercise is ideal, but you can start slower with a goal of four workouts a week for at least thirty minutes at a time.

3. Stick to it! Making exercise a necessity as opposed to an optional activity is important. Skipping a workout should hold the same importance as missing class or work. Keeping in mind how exercise prepares your brain for learning, think twice before letting your child skip a soccer practice, dance class, trip to the gym, etc., to study for a test.Exercise3

4. Take further action. A handful of schools around the country are adopting a “New P.E.” philosophy, which places every kid in P.E. class every day. Instead of teaching kids team sports, which can alienate less athletic kids, these programs focus on cooperation, not competition. Instead of embarrassing students, it encourages them to reach personal bests. For example, these programs often use heart rate monitors to assess how hard the student is working in class, allowing PE teachers to grade students based on effort rather than skill.  And not surprisingly, test scores at these schools are soaring above the national average. If you think your school district should follow suit, try contacting your county’s Board of Education and find out how you can help bring similar programs to your child’s school.

Source: Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD.

 This guest post was written for us by Hannah Freeman