By Drew Altizer, CEI Intern
The Olympics are here and we are all basking in the thrill of the race, most often from the spectator stands via remote control. However, we really get more benefits when we participate! To the parents weary about their child getting head injuries and the students who think they don’t have enough time for sports with all of their academic work, you’re wrong. Sorry, but it’s true. The cognitive benefits of athletics are well worth the risk.
Endorphins and Euphoria. We’ve all heard that strenuous activity like running releases endorphins, but who cares? You can do without endorphins, right? I guess you could say that, but you’d be passing up easy depression prevention and euphoric feelings. The psychological benefits received from exercise don’t stop at endorphins though. It’s been shown that just walking for 30 minutes can increase problem solving skills by 10%. Looking one step further, however, partaking in competitive sports has been shown to improve academic performance. This 2013 study, conducted by Asociación RUVID and involving 313 students with a mix of athletes and non-athletes, found that adolescents who engaged in active leisure had better study habits than those who engage in sedentary leisure. As a college lacrosse player myself, I can attest to the findings of this study. I’ve always found that my grades are better in season because my schedule is more regimented, and I spend less time goofing off. Personally, I also find that engaging in strenuous activity every day helps me sleep better, which gives me more energy to use in the mental grind that every college student experiences.
Other studies show that your brain actually grows from playing sports. Speed skaters spend their training going around a track only turning left. One study examined the how neuroplasticity affected these athletes’ brains. It found that the cerebellum of speed skaters’ right hemispheres (which controls the left side of their bodies) was in fact larger than their left cerebella.
Finding Time. If you’re still worried about not having enough time, try working out before school. It sounds daunting considering how early students have to wake up these days for school anyway, but once you’re in the habit of doing it, it will become routine. For example, I’m by no means a morning person, but for the sake of sport, I would force myself to get up before school and participate in “breakfast club.” This was held Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at 6:30am at my high school and was a mix of strength and conditioning and Crossfit. As hard as it was to physically get out of bed those mornings, I realized how much more energy I had in my morning classes just after those workouts and knew I had to do it. I had to set an alarm across the room from my bed so that I would have to get up to turn it off. I had to set my alarm later than I normally would so that I would have to hurry to get ready and wouldn’t have any time to hit the snooze button. It was terrible, but only for about 5 minutes. Once I was up, I was up; and working out in the morning gave me much more time in the evenings to work on schoolwork. I ended up going to bed earlier and shifting my whole sleep pattern back an hour or so. Most importantly, the more I did it, the more I got used to it.
The Take-Away. The most important takeaway from this is that no matter how busy you think you are, or how worried that your child will get a concussion from playing football, everyone needs to make time for activity. Adults and children alike. You can make every excuse in the book, including the good ones, but if you don’t consistently keep your body active, your mind will soon follow suit.
Asociación RUVID. (2013, June 12). Sport at competitive level improves the academic performance of secondary education students.
Park, I. S., Lee, N. J., Kim, T.-Y., Park, J.-H., Won, Y.-M., Jung, Y.-J., et al. (2012). Volumetric analysis of cerebellum in short-track speed skating players. Cerebellum 11, 925–930. doi: 10.1007/s12311-012-0366-6