Exercise to Remember

 By Carlton Moeller

In more information-dense classes on the Block Plan, studying can sometimes seem like a constant. In my own experience, in some of my more challenging blocks, studying has felt overwhelming and never-ending. There never seems to be a good time to take a break, which inhibits my normally regular exercise routine.

A compulsion to study and tight deadlines tend to loom over my head. When sleeping seems like just another study break, making time for any other activity seems preposterous — selfish, even. But studying 24/7 can have serious negative effects, as it interferes with proper sleep, diet, and exercise.

Exercise is a key remedy for the negative consequences of over-studying; however, sacrificing study time to work out is not often the easiest decision to make. But what if you didn’t have to make that sacrifice? A recent study published in PLOS ONE, titled “Physical Exercise during Encoding Improves Vocabulary Learning in Young Female Adults: A Neuroendocrinological Study,” found that performing mild exercise while studying vocabulary words actually improves long term consolidation and recollection.

The study split 105 German participants into three groups: one that was sedentary while studying, one that exercised before studying, and one that studied while doing light to moderate exercise on a stationary bike. Participants exercised and studied once a day for two days. Vocabulary quiz scores after the first day were compared to scores at the end of the second day. The simultaneously-biking-and-studying group performed the best of the three groups after the second day, as they had memorized the most words on average compared to the other two groups.

This study also found that while performing this light to moderate exercise, levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were increased. In previous studies, BDNF has been correlated positively with learning performance. Thus, the study “found better vocabulary test performance for subjects that were physically active during the encoding phase compared to sedentary subjects,” probably due to an increase in this protein in their brains during the encoding phase of studying.

So, if you have 100 flashcards you have to memorize by tomorrow, but you also have a hankering to get your blood pumping, it’s a good idea to get moving and study at the same time.

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