Although college presents a wonderful opportunity to expand one’s mind and prepare for the future, it can be very stressful for new students. Even those who have been around for awhile still feel its weight. Constantly trying to balance school, work, your social life, and your health becomes a struggle — especially during finals week. Engaging in regular exercise can be a great way to release this stress, allowing you to recoup mental clarity and focus.
Going on a morning jog is also another brain boosting exercise to keep stress at ease. Running outside has been shown to release endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. These are natural antidepressants that play a huge role in mood control. Other benefits of running include increased blood flow, lower production of cortisol, and improved memory and cognitive function. Whenever possible, try running in nature rather than running in the streets, as this has been shown to have effects comparable to meditation.
Similar to meditation, yoga has also been shown to increase brain power. After a 12-week study, brain scans showed that yoga combats cognitive decline by improving memory and mood. The scans also showed that communication developed between the parts of the brain that controlled both attention and language skills. All of these benefits are most likely an occurrence of increased self-awareness and a lowering of stress. Researchers speculate that yoga can also help aid epilepsy, PTSD, and chronic pain due to the increase in stress-reducing brain chemicals. Overall, yoga has a ton of brain-boosting properties that you can utilize to help improve your life.
It’s known that many people go to the gym to get fit and relieve stress in their lives. Science also shows that it boosts brain power. A 12-month weight training study showed that participants scored significantly higher on cognitive tests after the 12 months rather than prior to starting the training. There was also a direct correlation between strength gain and higher scores in this study. Like other exercises, strength training releases serotonin and endorphins in the brain which combat depression. Studies regarding both strength training and the brain have shown that consistent resistance training improves memory and cognitive function making you less likely to develop dementia.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT cardio not only helps you lose pounds but is also a great way to boost brainpower. According to a Finnish study, HIIT cardio has been shown to release exercise-induced endorphins within the brain. The chemical release in the brain helps control both pain and emotions associated with the workout. In the study, negative feelings were reduced when performing HIIT cardio. That is because endorphins also relieve feelings of depression, anxiety, and general stress. Other benefits of this kind of training include improvements in cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.
The University of Texas also performed a study that tested a protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This protein is involved in the repair and survival of brain cells. The protein also regulates mood and other cognitive functions, such as memory and learning. The results of the study showed that one session of HIIT was linked to higher levels of BDNF, thus leading to better cognitive function. Overall, these short-burst exercises can improve your brain function dramatically.
There’s no way to eliminate all of the stress associated with college-level classes, but there are ways to cope with it better. Taking a little time for regular exercise, as well as making smart dietary choices and getting enough sleep, can make a huge difference for your college experience. Tailoring your college experience to your own mental health needs, rather than letting a graduation schedule run your life, can also make a difference.
You can do this!