Tuesday, 30 September 2008

S-Cool 'Olympics Edition'

How exercise can help revision
For many of us, exercising during that dreaded revision period doesn’t even register on the list of 101 ways to avoid compound fractions. The benefits of hitting the gym between hitting the books seem great; blood filled with oxygen is pumped to the brain and stress busting endorphins are released into the body. However, research conducted by the University of California has discovered another advantage to getting hot and sweaty.

It seems that doing aerobic exercise such as playing tennis triggers growth in brain matter. When you do exercise, the body is put under a lot of stress because its energy reserves are being depleted. The natural response of the body is to protect its most precious organ; the brain. Unlike cells in other organs, the neurons inside the brain are extremely vulnerable to changes in energy supply. ‘If deprived of energy for more than one minute, the neuron dies.’ explains Gomez-Pinilla of UCLA.

So how does the body defend itself?
Every single second of the day your brain is sending and receiving electric messages. The more you move, the more messages are sent. During exercise, the body moves faster than the speed at which the brain processes the messages and triggers a release of chemicals called growth factors. The neurons become stronger and more importantly, improve your ability to learn. To achieve intellectual bliss, it is recommended that you exercise for half an hour every other day. Being out of breathe and sweaty is the key to success; anaerobic exercise such as weight lifting doesn’t have the same effect and will only bulk up your muscles, and not your brain.

For those who are simply not athletically gifted there may be another option available. Recently this month, a paper published by the University of Chicago in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ claimed that playing or even watching sports enhances your ability to process language about that sport. The experience of avidly watching sports, whether it be in the arena or in front of your TV, engages parts of the brain used to plan and control physical actions.

Researchers used functioning Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan which parts of the brain responded to certain phrases. They used normal everyday words mixed with hockey phrases. Those who were fans of hockey had more brain activity when hockey words were said compared to the normal words. This suggests that engaging in an activity taps into brain networks not normally associated with language and boosts your overall understanding of the vocabulary used in that activity. So watching sports will only strengthen the brain in talking about, well, sport but you’d be surprised how descriptive Olympics commentaries are. You never know, it may just come in handy during an English language exam.