Exercise fuels the brain – so what? (Ten Ways to use brain based research in training #2)

What do you think about moving and learning?  You’ll be aware that humans did not evolve by driving to work, sitting in classrooms and working on computers so our brains tend to work better when we’re behaving naturally, which means moving, and regular exercise may actually fuel the brain with more energy and make it sharper.

Studies on rats at the Laboratory of Biochemistry and Neuroscience at the University of Tsukuba may partly show how this happens.

About 10 years ago scientists found special brain cells (astrocytes) store glycogen, an energy source for the brain.  When you exercise your brain loses energy (you’re using your brain to co-ordinate movements, balance etc) and with a single bout of exercise the greatest losses were especially noticeable in the astrocytes of the frontal cortex and the hippocampus – both parts of the brain heavily involved in memory and high level thinking skills as well as co-ordinating movement.   Does this mean we shouldn’t encourage people to move whilst learning?

No; when rats were fed after a single bout of exercise they seemed to very effectively carbo-load the brain in those areas so there was more stored energy available – but it only lasted for about 24 hours.  Rats who exercised moderately for 4 weeks seemed to increase their stored fuel reserves in the frontal cortex and hippocampus   As a result, Dr. Soya says, “it is tempting to suggest that increased storage and utility of brain glycogen in the cortex and hippocampus might be involved in the development” of a better, sharper brain.”

Whilst rats and humans are obviously different there are potential implications for us as learners and the weight of evidence seems to suggest that people think better when they move.  This works for short term exercise and has more effect with moderate exercise over a longer time.

It may not be in your power as a trainer to get people to exercise regularly but keeping people sitting still in your training sessions isn’t going to do anything for their powers of concentration either.

  • We’ve found that people who stand up to explore a model mapped out on the ground ask more and better quality questions than when the same information is presented on a flipchart or powerpoint.
  • Arrange for different activities to take place in different spaces in your training rooms – or better still different rooms, even different buildings.  The time taken in moving location may actually be sharpening up your learners brains.
  • Encourage people to go for a walk with a partner whilst discussing a topic.
  • Remember the rats had to be fed too to increase their energy reserves so provide slow release energy snacks to refuel people’s brains while they move around.

Get more ideas on how to sharpen up brains at ‘How to be Brain Friendly Trainer’ on 22nd April 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *