As science progresses, it is becoming abundantly clear that humans are not purely compartmentalized beings. What I mean by that is, while we are made up of parts, we can now see how all of our organs and systems are entirely dependent on each other.
We are holistic creatures!
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that when seeking to improve our mental capacity, clarity, and memory capabilities as part of our quest to become more efficient learners, we should seriously consider the benefits of physical exercise. For many of us, exercise may be the key to overcoming our learning inhibitions. Here’s why:
I’ll look at the issue of exercise from two levels: the macro and the micro.
At the macro level we deal with the major systems of the body, and at the micro we deal with cells, neurons and the connectivity of the brain to the muscles. The broadest (and most basic) sense in which our brains benefit from physical training is at the cardiovascular level.
Our brain needs blood in order to function at all. And not just blood, but well oxygenated blood. Our brains, like every other major tissue, are virtual oxygen addicts. That is why holding your breath for too long will cause you to pass out. It is well known that cardiovascular and aerobic exercise increase blood flow, heart strength, and blood-oxygen fixation. Hence, exercise feeds your brain oxygen-rich blood and teaches it to process the oxygen it receives more efficiently. The effects of this biological activity over long periods of time involve increased mental clarity, sustained energy, and general brain health.
At the micro level, we find that physical training keeps our brains supplied with the necessary stimulation to continue to develop and grow versus becoming static and stagnant. The unique thing about our bodies and our minds is that we develop by means of hardship. This sounds like a downer, but it’s true, and it inspires some hope for those of us who struggle with learning!
Just look at physical exercise. Building muscle and losing fat are relatively violent processes. In controlled exercise, you muscles break down under strain and rebuild even stronger and larger (hence the soreness!).
So it is with the mind.
When we struggle to practice new skills and retain information, our minds are adapting by developing new neurons and synapses that enable us to turn once complicated matters into areas of expertise. Since the brain and body are connected, physical training can actually serve to develop nerve cells and more intricate synapse connectivity throughout the body, and neurons in the mind, by stimulating them to respond to mild disruption.
I’ll bet you never thought that jogging, riding a bike, or lifting weights could make you smarter, huh? Not only that, but some studies have shown that exercise, even massage, can help release old memories by helping re-circulate activity in the nerves of certain skeletal muscles.
Like the internet, our brains are networks of information storing connections that regulate processes including learning and the creation of memories. Thus, any stimulation in the body can be a plus for the mind!
In conclusion, physical training is beneficial for the development of mental faculties and memory development (both of which are key components of learning), by increasing the flow of nutrients to the brain, stimulating neurological connectivity, and keeping the mind active through coordination-promoting exercise. If you or a loved one are experiencing learning disability or memory loss, and you haven’t considered starting an exercise program, I would highly recommend that you do so as a natural means of promoting mental health!