Next time you sit down for another lengthy study session, should you go for exercise or extra fries? According to science, it looks like the cardio might be better than the carboload. Loads of people already say exercise boosts your memory and mood. Even a bit of yoga helps! Though let’s be real, it’s much more tempting to just, well, namasté in bed.
So we got curious and started asking: When is the best time to exercise to improve our brainpower? Should you be working out before or after studying? Is there a case for simultaneous brain and body training? And for how long? We checked out a few scenarios and sources and here’s what science says!
According to science, morning workouts give you the best benefits
Best start moving that alarm up a few extra minutes earlier because guess what? Your body is extra primed in the morning for exercise. Physiologically speaking, you’re at your peak before 7a.m., with elevated levels of cortisol and growth hormones—both of which boost metabolism. TL;DR: If your goal is to get fit, do it in the A.M.
Plus, getting some physical activity at the start of your day is a great way to shake off the grogginess. Exercise gets you more alert and energized, so a morning routine is great for getting your goals checked off early in the day.
Working out in the afternoon is good for an energy boost
Say you’ve got a long daily routine full of classes and meetings. If you’re looking to get out of that midday mood swing, schedule a quick run or even a 15 to 20-minute walk in between 1 to 4 p.m. We’re usually a lot more sluggish around the afternoon because our blood sugar levels rise throughout the day.
A life hack for students? If you can choose your classes, schedule your Physical Ed in the afternoon to avoid the end of day slump. Then hit the shower, head home, and get back to regular programming!
A nighttime workout is great to de-stress, but watch your body clock!
What if you’ve got night classes or a rigid schedule that just won’t allow a workout at any other time? Exercise at night is fine, too, but physical therapists say that it can delay your bedtime. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, an energy-boosting hormone. Which is why it isn’t advisable to workout, shower, and hit the hay.
Instead, schedule an easy, stress-relieving activity like yoga or taichi sometime in between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. That way, your body clock doesn’t go cuckoo, and you can get a dose of calm to last you the night. Nighttime exercises like these are also said to reduce levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which should make your sleep a little easier.
So how about your study routines and working out?
Do you study better in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Now that you know the best times and ways to exercise, try incorporating your fitness and study schedules together! Here’s what we found: Exercise timing and intensity interact to affect memory formation. That is, according to a study done by professors of medical psychology from the Goethe University.
But it all depends on how much you exercise, when you exercise, and how you’re studying. So which scenario works best for you?
Scenario 1: Workout before you study to boost focus
How does exercise boost brainpower, really? After a good workout, your blood is flowing and those endorphins are keeping you hyped up. Your heart is essentially pumping your brain more with the oxygen, nutrients, and chemicals it needs to perform at max capacity.
If you were to work out before studying, go for an aerobic session. The British Journal of Psychology did a study on how aerobics boosts brainpower enough for you to remember things in the long term. But don’t go more than an hour, because then you could overexert your body and overstimulate your brain.
Scenario 2: Workout after you study to improve long-term memory
Feeling brain fog after long and rigorous hours of studying? If it’s still light out, head out for a run or hit the gym. Doing some cardio right after learning something can help you remember it better. In fact, exercising activates the hippocampus, a part of your brain associated with long-term memory. And doing cardio after learning something new improves your ability to retain it in the long-term.
For some, exercise is a stress-reliever. It’s a way to, well, work out the frustration and general moodiness off your body. You could even pair some of your favorite tunes to a great regimen. Of course, if you schedule fitness later into your day, watch what you eat and remember what we said about the body clock! Don’t head to sleep straight away, and take it easy so you don’t mess up your rhythm.
Scenario 3: Study while working out to do both
This scenario got us thinking: what if we worked on our brains the same time as our bodies? People who exercise while learning recalled information better than those who exercise before. Moreover, exercising while studying significantly improved memory retention versus studying while sitting still.
However, moderation is key. It all depends on the intensity of your physical activity. If you’re doing a full cardio workout while trying to memorize new information, your brain won’t be able to keep up with your body.
Hit the gym and do a workout that’s repetitive and low intensity. Stationary bicycles and treadmills are your best partners! Pair that with a long reading or memory-based study session.
So what fits?
If we had to pick the best case, we’d wake up early and do a light workout while reading up a few days before a test. Bottom line, scientifically speaking, is to keep your exercise mild so your brain can both process and retain that information. If this doesn’t work for you, the secret sauce is knowing your body clock and your peak study hours.