As a college student, it can be hard to find time to work out regularly what with exams, papers, jobs, etc. Even if you have the time, just finding the motivation to get up and go to the gym can be a difficult feat. Well according to researchers at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, exercising can make you more intelligent! How? When you work out, specifically during aerobic exercise, a molecule called irisin is released through a chain reaction and activates genes in the brain that correspond to learning and memory. Experimenters studied the brains of mice as they performed endurance exercise and found that the levels of irisin released in the brain increased as the amount of exercise increased. The elevated levels of irisin in the mice led to an increased expression of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which aids in the growth of new neurons.
A hormone called cortisol also plays a relatively important role in regulating mood and memory. Cortisol has been found to trigger the degeneration of neurons (the opposite of BDNF), possibly leading to stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercise helps to lower levels of cortisol and increase levels of BDNF, basically working as an antidepressant by boosting your mood and stimulating the brain! So whether you’re running a marathon or dancing your butt off on Zumba, not only are you working your heart and body, but you’re working your brain as well!