Photo of People doing flexibility exercises

I’ve become somewhat fanatical about the “physical” side of learning – namely, exercise, diet, and sleep. I touched on sleep in a recent post (more of that to come), so I thought I’d take exercise for a spin this time around. (And I will, of course, get to diet in the future.)

Evidence has continued to accumulate over the past couple of decades that exercise has a clear impact on various aspects of learning including, but not limited to, encoding (i.e., getting new information into your brain effectively), short term memory, long term memory, and general cognitive performance.

There are, for example, studies that suggest that:

1. Mild exercise while engaged in learning can improve recall (another bit of evidence to support the practice of the learning walk)

2. Even as little as 3 months of aerobic exercise can improve cognition in older adults

3. Exercise also improves spatial and verbal memory in older adults suffering from mild cognitive decline (a condition many of us are likely to experience as we age)

4. A specific molecule released during endurance exercise may spark the growth of new neurons

5. A higher level of fitness can help kids better recall what they have learned

These studies, in combination with a significant amount of prior research, point to the importance of making regular exercise a part of our own lives and our children’s lives. They also underline the need for a greater focus on exercise as part of public policy. While most people understand the benefits to our collective physical health – and the impact on our health care and health insurance systems – the impact on our collective mental health is equally important.

In case you need more convincing – or want to convince others – here are brief summaries from each of the five studies:

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The “why” of self-directed learning is survival—your own survival as an individual, and also the survival of the human race.  Clearly, we are not talking here about something that would be nice or desirable….We are talking about a basic human competence—the ability to learn on one’s own—that has suddenly become a prerequisite for living in this new world. – Malcom Knowles, 1975

While lifelong learning and self-directed learning are not equivalent, they overlap substantially. I think the following points apply equally to both. The successful lifelong learner is someone who:

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Sleep Learning Memory

It’s been a while since my last post on sleep and learning. During that time, evidence suggesting the critical connection between sleep, learning, and memory has continued to accumulate. For a poor sleeper like me, it has also become more disturbing in some ways. Here’s a quick run down on some of the recent research.

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A 3-Step Review and Reflection Process

In addition to the brief periods of reflection I engage in on a daily and weekly basis,  I try my best to take some significant time at least a couple times of year to look back over the previous months – sometimes beyond –  and reflect more deeply on what I have learned. I think this sort […]

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The Learning Walk, Continued

A while back I wrote a post called The Learning Walk: A Primer which proved to be quite a bit more popular than I expected. A recommend reading it – everything I say in it still holds true – but the main idea is that walking is a simple habit that can contribute significantly to […]

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The Future and Learning – Connecting the Dots

The learning landscape continues to evolve in very interesting ways. I’ve noticed lately, for example, that artificial intelligence (AI) seems to finally be getting significant traction. Enough so that numerous notable figures like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have expressed concern concerns about how it might run amok.

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How to Remember What You Hear – A Simple, Research-Based Tip

Do you ever get frustrated because you listen to a story, presentation, or lecture, but later – sometimes as little as a few hours later – can recall little to nothing about it? Call it self awareness – or, perhaps more accurately, call it aging – but for whatever reason I have become increasingly conscious […]

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