As we reach the middle of the semester, assignments seem to pile up, and the number of readings is never ending. I, too, have struggled to focus lately, and it feels harder each day to finish my homework. Even teachers are more tired during this time.
Working out is one thing that always helps me clear my mind and get back to studying. I go to the gym around five times a week and take my dog for runs often. Every time I return home, I feel ready to tackle all the things on my to-do list.
In short, physical exercise makes you more organized, increases your memorization skills, improves concentration and is part of a complete education. This is why I believe that all the 5Cs should include a physical education requirement. While Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College and Pomona College have physical education requirements, Pitzer College and Scripps College do not.
To learn more, I decided to speak with an expert on this topic: Paris Dimitriadis, a personal trainer, gym owner, physical education teacher and competitive discus thrower working in Thessaloniki, Greece.
According to Dimitriadis, working out can reduce insulin resistance and stimulate the brain with augmentative factors, which eventually increases the health of our brain cells. As a result, stress levels decrease and sleep quality improves. These two benefits combined can improve our academic performance since we are able to think more clearly and concentrate better.
Another way in which exercising affects the brain is that it “enlarges the size of the hippocampus, a part [of the brain] devoted to verbal learning and memory,” Dimitriadis said. People with larger hippocampi can perform better in tasks related to the functions it controls, so a larger hippocampus enhances memory, making it easier to absorb information from classes.
Apart from this, working out increases the oxygen levels and the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing neurons to form new connections and pathways which assist with higher learning.
In fact, a study conducted in 2013 proved that physical activity can help people overcome mental blocks and increase creativity. This can improve one’s academic performance, because sometimes, problem solving requires just a bit of creativity and the ability to approach a problem from a different angle and think of solutions that are out of the box.
Several other researchers have found similar results. One case study in Spain followed 2,000 children aged 6-18 to see how fitness affects academic performance. The scientists discovered a link between strong heart function and better blood flow in the brain, as well as the release of nerve growth factors.
Yet another study in South Korea attempted to identify this relationship and observed 236 students aged 13-15. Their findings revealed that students with higher physical fitness also indicate higher academic achievement.
Thinking back to my own experience, I can confirm all of these results. Ever since I started being more active in high school, my grades increased significantly, and I generally feel more motivated.
Working out has also helped me create a daily schedule and keep everything in order. This way, I ensure that I have some time for studying every day, and I get all of my assignments done.
Aside from improving our cognitive performance, “working out is necessary for our overall health and wellness,” according to Dimitriadis. He has seen smart people who were not physically active move on to higher education, and their lack of activity held them back from being able to walk comfortably between classes or stand for many hours in labs. So, physical education is actually a part of holistic learning because it betters us in other ways.
A simple application of this type of learning in everyday life is that by knowing how to lift weights safely, one could be able to handle moving to another place and lift all the boxes by themselves without getting injured.
In Dimitriadis’ opinion, “a combination of the two — exercise and academics — actually provides a better result in learning.” Many of his clients have also expressed that they feel attending his gym has helped them improve their performance both in their academic and work environment.
Overall, I would like to encourage all of you to exercise, whether you have just felt unmotivated to do so lately or if you’re completely new to it.
“It is important to find things that fill you with energy,” Dimitriadis stated, so there is no guideline as to how you should exercise. Find a sport or a routine that makes you happy and stick with it.
Personally, I started by joining a volleyball team with my friends just so I could have others to motivate me. After that, it was easy for me to figure out what exercises I liked by listening to my body and observing how happy I felt after each workout.
In addition, I would suggest that it’s necessary for school administrators to add physical education courses to their curriculum and encourage their students to participate in such extracurricular activities. This way, it will be easier for young people to get involved with exercising.
Leah Voudouri PO ’24 is from Thessaloniki, Greece. She’s currently obsessed with baking and will attempt to make pumpkin pie for the first time.