The benefits of exercise for health and well-being have long been written about. In the June 2022 issue of Consumer Reports, one of the top features was titled “Boost Your Brain Power.” The article focused on people aged 55 and over and the habits to follow to prevent dementia and stay mentally alert. A list of 16 different tips to follow to maintain your brain included beneficial foods and recommended daily practices during your day. Obvious habits of not smoking, drinking too much alcohol, getting enough sleep, and monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar numbers are very common mentions. Good dishes included salads, berries, seafood and a couple of cups of coffee. For this article on running and fitness, the element that caught my attention was “get enough physical activity”.

Benefits of exercise for brain power included increased blood flow to the brain and increased size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. The amount of exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was for adults to get 150 minutes a week of moderately intense exercise. An example given was doing about 30 minutes of brisk walking five times a week. Some researchers recommend taking 30 minutes a day. Research suggests that exercise sessions of 45 to 60 minutes provide the greatest benefits for the brain.

One study showed that people over 55 who were inactive had improved thinking skills after six months of walking three times a week. This was good news for people approaching seniority, as walking only three times a week led to better thinking skills. Three times a week is lower than the recommendation of five times a week, or a daily 45-60 minute walk, and was still able to show improvement.

Although this article focuses primarily on older adults, research has also been conducted on the benefits for younger populations. A study conducted in California years ago showed that physical activity was beneficial for maintaining good grades in school. The study looked at the results of the California fitness test administered to all college students. The test included six different exercises. The results compared the students’ average marks and the number of fitness tests they passed. Students who passed all six tests had a very high percentage of “A” grades. The results showed that students who failed all six tests also had lower averages. Students who passed five tests averaged lower scores and were more likely to earn a “B” grade. The trend continued downward with the number of successful tests. Four passing tests were more likely to have “C” grades. Students who passed only one test or who failed all of them had a higher percentage of failures. It has shown that physical fitness has benefits in study habits and getting passing grades.

Another study came out of schools in Naperville, Illinois. The physical education teacher had a “Zero Hour” physical education class. The class met before the start of the school year for one hour a day. The emphasis was on physical fitness versus the ability to play sports. Students who volunteered for the “Zero Hour” physical education class showed a 17% improvement in reading and comprehension, compared to just 10.7% for students who slept.

The district saw the results and included it in the program. The most telling example is that of the students who participated in the study on international trends in mathematics and science. It was a test designed to compare the knowledge levels of students from different countries in two key areas. The usual results showed that almost half of Asian countries scored at the higher level against students from the United States who scored only 7% at this level. Eighth graders from Naperville took the test. The results allowed the students to finish first in the science test and sixth in the math section. Overall, American students finished 18th in science and 19th in math. Another study compared students taking an exercise class one hour before a math test with another group of students who studied one hour before the test. The exercise students performed better on the test than the pre-test study group. Exercise first, then study seems to be the recommendation.