The relationship between food, physical activity, and learning is hardwired into our DNA
— John J. Ratey, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

Research Linking Exercise And Learning

1) John J. Ratey, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

John J. Ratey's (M.D.) TEDx Talk about the impact of exercise on the brain

   Exercise improves learning in three ways

  1. It improves alertness, attention, stress levels, mood, and motivation
  2. It prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another and make stronger connections (which is the basis for learning)
  3. Spurs the development of new nerve cells allowing more learning to take place
  • The more neuroscientists discover...the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn

  • Exercise sparks the master molecule of the learning process

  • Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function

  • Your [exercise] regimen has to include skill acquisition and aerobic exercise

  • The California Department of Education has consistently shown that students with higher fitness scores also have higher test scores.

  • A school in Naperville, Illinois instituted a daily, fitness-focused gym class. When Naperville's students took the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), which evaluates knowledge of math and science, they finished 1st in the WORLD in science and 6th in math. As a whole, the U.S. ranked 18th in science and 19th in math.

If you want to learn more, the book is filled with experiments, data, and insightful stories that illustrate how exercise can impact learning, stress, anxiety, ADHD, and addiction. 

2) Another book that speaks to the benefits of exercise is The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, written by award winning New York Times Reporter Charles Duhigg. 

Charles Duhigg is the author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life", recognized as one of the best books of 2012 by The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

  • Studies from the past decade show that when people start habitually exercising, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly.
  • Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change in people's lives
  • People that exercise start eating better, become more productive, influence better decision making and exhibit more patience
  • An exercise routine helps build self discipline and willpower, which has been shown to lead to higher test scores and better grades

3) The U.S. Department For Health And Human Services conducted a review on the link between physical activity and academic performance. The findings of the report are outlined below.

  • When children and adolescents participate in the recommended level of physical activity—at least 60 minutes daily—multiple health and academic benefits result. 
  • There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades, standardized test scores, concentration and attention levels, and classroom behavior. 

  • Over 250 associations between physical activity and academic performance were examined and over half of them displayed statistically significantly positive effects on student's academic performance. 
  • Grade point average was positively associated with extracurricular physical activity

Other Resources To Explore the Benefits of Exercise and Learning

Research Linking Nutrition and Learning

1) Studies found in the Food and Nutrition Information Center cite multiple examples of the positive effect improved nutrition habits have on a student's ability to learn. 

  • Standardized test scores increased when programs focusing on healthy eating and physical activity were incorporated in an elementary school in Georgia. 

  • Schools that instituted nutritional changes had higher reading and math scores over a two year span compared to similar schools that did not institute the program. 

  • Students who ate healthy diets had increased IQ scores compared with students who ate unhealthy diets

  • The American Dietetic Association believes that all children and adolescents should have access to food and nutrition programs that promote optimal physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth and development. 

  • A nutritional education program increased academic performance in math and english at a school in California

2)  Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, worked with the Mental Health Foundation, to collect and analyze around 500 research studies to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the evidence linking what we eat with mental well-being and behavior. 

  • Our diets effect how our brains are made and how they function, throughout our entire lives. 
  • Nutrients consumed in the diet are some of the most consistent physical influences on the body and mind. Whether someone is healthy or not can often (and increasingly) be traced back to the types, amount, and nutritional quality of the food they eat. 
  • Although a cliché, humans literally become what they eat. The composition and chemical processes of the human body are highly dependent on what nutrients a person consumes from food
  • Brain cells and neurotransmitters are all created from the nutrients in our food, and nutrients continue to influence both their growth and their activity. 
  • A recent long-term study has confirmed that adolescent behavior and mental health may have deteriorated significantly and measurably over the past 25 years. Many researchers (along with parents, teachers, and campaigners) have suggested that the changes in nutrition over that period may be a contributory factor. 

3) How Nutrition Affects Your Brain

Other Resources To Explore the Benefits of Nutrition and Learning

Research Linking Positive Psychology and Learning

1) The Happiness Advantage, by Harvard lecturer Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard.

  • Happiness is the precursor for success. Happiness and optimism fuel performance and acheivement.
  • Our brains are hardwired to perform at their best when they are thinking positively.
  • When we are happy - when our mindset and mood are positive - we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.
  • When our brains get stuck in a pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail. 
  • You can train your brain to think more positively and rationally. 
  • Dopamine floods into your system when your are positive and turns on all the learning centers in your brain. 
  • The lens from which your brain views the world shapes your reality. If we can change the lens ... we can change every educational and business outcome.