How Exercise Helps You Learn

In this series of articles, we look at the effects of exercise on the brain, including how it helps us maximize our capacity to learn. In the previous post, we saw how moderate-intensity exercise helps enhance cognition by increasing brain blood flow. However, this effect works in the short term, as long as we continue to maintain the right exercise-intensity level: Not intense enough and we don’t augment blood flow to the brain; too intense and blood flow returns to baseline flow levels all while the demands of exercise require us to increasingly focus on the exercise itself (not the problem you’re trying to solve in your head).

So, an interesting question to ask is this: can exercise induce lasting improvements in cognitive ability? Current research suggests that the answer to this question is yes. Exercise promotes an increase in the levels of certain substances that enhance the brain’s capacity to acquire and retain new information.

Which Exercise Intensity Makes You Smarter Right Now? Exercise and Cognition, Part 1

It was traditionally thought that total brain blood flow was not changed during physical activity. Research in the last 10 years, however, changed this perspective. We now understand that the increased neuronal and metabolic activity of the brain during exercise drive increases in blood flow to it. We have also learned that exercise that is too intense will reduce blood flow and oxygen delivery causing fatigue. So, what is the ideal intensity to stimulate blood flow to the brain, and perhaps, augment your mental abilities in the moment?