Why hitting the gym might be the best thing you can do for your GPA


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Charis Jones, Staff Reporter

As a student in college, I find myself always looking for ways to help improve my academic performance. I ended up trying everything from flashcards to study groups, but it wasn’t until I started incorporating regular exercise into my routine that I started to notice a real difference. Suddenly, I was able to focus better in class, retain information more effectively and even sleep better at night. Intrigued by these benefits, I decided to do some research into the relationship between exercise and academic performance, and what I found was truly fascinating.

Dr. John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, delves into the correlation between exercise and the brain in his book. He puts forth compelling evidence that “aerobic exercise physically remodels the brain for peak performance on all fronts,” according to Award-Winning Teacher, Nancy Barile.

Ratey emphasizes that exercise has a positive effect on learning specifically, functioning at three distinct levels: 

“First, it optimizes your mindset to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,.” Ratey said. In essence, exercise not only prepares the brain for learning but also simplifies the process of retaining that information.

In addition to improving one’s learning capabilities, Ratey’s research also highlights how exercise can have a significant impact on common mental health issues/learning disabilities that students face, such as stress, anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Each of these factors can negatively affect academic performance, making it crucial to address them.

For example, physical exercise can be a potent tool for controlling the emotional and physical sensations of stress as well as mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress. It also can help increase social activity and boost confidence, enabling students to establish and maintain social connections.

Physical activity has also been found to positively affect depressive symptoms, thanks to the endorphins produced in the brain during aerobic activity which contribute to a general feeling of well-being. It also stimulates the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that enhances mood and promotes better focus and attention. Even a modest amount of exercise, just 30 minutes a few days out of the week, could significantly improve the mood of students who experience depressive symptoms.

Students with ADHD may find themselves struggling with the demands of sitting still, facing forward, and listening in a traditional classroom setting, making school a challenging environment for them. Nevertheless, according to Ratey’s research, structured exercise, such as martial arts, ballet, skateboarding, or gymnastics, could be some of the most effective treatment strategies for managing symptoms of ADHD. This is because such activities provide opportunities to enhance physical coordination, mental focus, and self-regulation skills.

Overall, the evidence is clear: regular exercise can be a game-changer for students looking to improve their academic performance. Not only does exercise prepare the brain for learning, but it also helps to combat common mental health issues that can negatively affect academic success. From reducing stress and anxiety to boosting mood and focus, the benefits of physical activity extend far beyond the gym. So if you’re a student looking to boost your GPA and overall well-being, consider hitting the gym and making exercise a regular part of your routine. Your brain – and your grades – will thank you.