How Exercise Affects Mental Health and Cognitive Development?

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Exercise is an act of activity and getting the heart to pump blood all throughout the body. Being in school and learning is an exercise for the brain, and the mind in order to test the abilities of human knowledge. If people in school participate in physical exercise, that allows the brain to receive more blood and more oxygen to stimulate the brain’s neural functions (School Specialty, 2017). With increased neural functions, it increases the ability to perform academically better. “Peoples brain can only exert their potential if their mental and physical strengths are at their best” (Barenberg, Berse, & Dutke, 2011, Pg. 1942). Experimenting with exercise cannot exist without the mention of being overweight (Pan, 2018). Many research methods are conducted with normal weight children to overweight children. This has been scientifically been proven true by conducting research on elementary level students to college level students to adults.

Childhood is a very important and sensitive period for cognitive development (Bidzan-Bluma, Lipowska, 2018). A research study that was conducted randomly chose 100 students who were 8-10 years old (Pan, 2018). The children would be divided into groups to perform high aerobic exercise or low aerobic exercise, and they would perform the exercise for 20 weeks, and 5 days per week (Pan, 2018). The high aerobic exercise group would exercise for 50 minutes, while the low aerobic exercise group would only exercise for 20 minutes (Pan, 2018). The results from the research was that the group of children that did the high aerobic exercise performed significantly better than the group of children that did the low exercise. Researchers can conclude that there is experimental evidence that exercise does improve brain function in children (Chaddock, Hillman, Buck, & Cohen, 2011). Children with a higher aerobic exercise habit is positively correlated with academic performance (Brown et al., 2003). A recent study showed that girls, but not boys, who spent 1 to 5 hours per week doing physical activity had greater achievement in mathematics and reading than those who spent 35 minutes or fewer of physical activity per week (Carlson, Fulton, Lee, 2008). American researchers recommends for all children and adolescents to have at least 60 minutes of physical activity (School Specialty, 2017). A myriad research states that children and adolescents need to have an adequate amount of exercise throughout the school day because the school day is so long for the students (School Specialty, 2017). Proper and active exercises can help shape healthy and active brains by improving the brain’s functions and cognitive learning abilities (Pan, 2018). Short time or long time aerobic exercise can improve children's cognitive ability, enhance the ability to process information, and will make them more focused in learning (Pan, 2018). Time devoted to physical activity at school does not harm the students academic performance and may actually improve it (Davis, Pollock, N.D.). Incorporating at least 40 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity to attain greater cognitive benefits would require additional programs available to children of all skill levels and it would be very beneficial to all children (Tomporowski, McDowell, 2011). Young children are receiving better grades and improvements to their academic performances by introducing exercise into their daily lives.

Another big topic under this category is how exercise affects college students and how they perform in the classroom, and their stress levels. College students that are engaging in regular physical activity will improve their psychosocial health and decreases stress (Economos, Hildebrant, & Hyatt, 2008). College students are very vulnerable to several stress factors, including academic and social pressures and along with the challenges of being in a new environment while also living independently for the first time (Wilson-Salandy, Nies, 2012). Students tend to lose self-confidence trying to establish new social relations and at the same time trying to cope with the increasing academic demands (Tao et al., 2000; Dwyer & Cummings, 2001). Many colleges try to promote health and support their students so they are able to have health and academic success while studying there (Huesman, Brown, Lee, Kellogg, & Radcliffe, 2009). A common coping behavior to manage stress is to engage in physical activity and aerobic exercise (Bland et ah, 2014; Ruthig et ah, 2011). Some studies have shown that college students who engage in physical activity are more likely to have better health and academic outcomes (Huesman et ah, 2009; Ruthig et ah, 2011). College students between the ages of 18-25 have the lowest amount of physical activity compared to other ages (Wilson-Salandy, Nies, 2012). This is mainly because many college students do not have the time to participate in physical activity because of their constant school work and other obligations. There is limited research examining how physical activity, fitness, and academic outcomes are related during the college years (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). There was a national college survey conducted to study the correlation between their aerobic exercise habits, and their stress levels (ACHA, 2014). Some questions that were asked of the students were that if students had done a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in the last seven days, do students do strength training containing 8-12 repetitions each time and ect. The results showed that the students who said yes to exercising aerobically and do strength training do have a reduced stress level than ones who do not exercise on a regular basis (ACHA, 2014). Students are able to reduce their stress levels by receiving guidance so the students are able to enhance their academic achievement. (Elias, Ping, Abdullah, N.D.). A study had 233 undergraduate students reported their physical activity throughout the transition between high school and college. (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). The results from that study were that 65% of students were vigorously engaged into physical activity during high school. However, during their college years, 38% of students said that they continued to participate in vigorous physical activity (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). This just shows how much college students do not engage in physical activity as much a they should and it is hurting their mental health. Factors could include greater time demands like school work or a job, as well as different access to places to be active (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). Previous research has shown that high stress levels in college are also associated with depression, anxiety, and less life satisfaction overall (Weinstein & Laverghetta, 2009). Another research was conducted where the participants were college students that volunteered to enrolled into a physical activity and nutritional classes. (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). Those classes required a fitness assessment as part of the course requirements (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). The participants were engaging in short but high intensity workouts and the workouts were mainly under 2 hours (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). The determined results from this research study is that the relationship between physical activity and their GPA in the class did not fluctuate and stayed the same through the experiment. However, the research has changed the students life habits and the participants have started to exercise more (Calestine, Bopp, Bopp, Papalia, 2017). College students who experience more social support are more physically active than other groups of students (Uchino, 2004). College students do experience some levels of cognitive development due to physical activity but the big thing is that physical activity does reduce stress levels in college students. At this stage of a person’s life, developing the habit of exercising and eating healthy will translate into adulthood.

Being an adult means that a person has gone through education and now has their life started with a career and a family. Researchers still question that if exercise will increase the cognitive function of older adults. There was a research conducted where researchers examined the dose-response relationship between exercise and cognitive function in older adults without cognitive impairments (Sanders ,Hortobagyi, Gemert, Van der Zee, Heuvelen, 2018). The method was to calculate the exercise duration in minutes for every study using the program duration (weeks), session duration (minutes) and the frequency (Sanders ,Hortobagyi, Gemert, Van der Zee, Heuvelen, 2018). The study showed that there was only a small positive effect of exercise on the brain’s function and memory. It was founded that there was lower exercise effects on cognition in healthy older adults (Sanders ,Hortobagyi, Gemert, Van der Zee, Heuvelen, 2018). Older adults should perform a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises at a moderate intensity, it should be done around three times per week or as much as the adult can (Sanders ,Hortobagyi, Gemert, Van der Zee, Heuvelen, 2018). Exercise also does not really affect older adults as much as it affects young children and adolescents. Exercising while being an adult will create healthier habits which would lead to a long life.

In the effects of exercise and how it affects mental health and cognition, it seems to be that young children and adolescents are affected the most from exercise. Children today are increasingly having lifestyles that involve time spent on computers and watching TV (Bidzan-Bluma, Lipowska, 2018). This lifestyle leads them to neglect the physical activity that has been typical to this developmental period (Bidzan-Bluma, Lipowska, 2018). It is most beneficial to young children’s health and mental state. Exercise will help young children and adolescents to improve their academic performance as it has been proven. College students use exercise in order to develop life long habits that will hopefully stick throughout their life. Students with higher levels of stress will vision themselves as less healthy and will have a lower self esteem (Wilson-Salandy, Nies, 2012). College students who are stressed out often, do not exercise on a regular basis. Exercise will not affect the student’s GPA much but it will affect their level of stress by lowering it. In adulthood, exercise will affect the stress but only a tiny amount. That is because when people are adults, they do not really have anything to be stress about besides real life situations. Exercise is key to having a healthy life in adulthood. 

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How Exercise Affects Mental Health And Cognitive Development?. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved May 21, 2024 , from

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