In the previous post, we were talking about useful techniques that help you study quickly, efficiently, and painlessly. In particular, we have discussed switching between focused and diffused modes of attention, tackling procrastination by "just doing it" (starting on the task you want to avoid for 20-30 minutes and getting the job done), and we have talked about the importance of good sleep. Today, we will discuss some more useful strategies for effective and easy studying.
Advice #1: Exercise
It's not only good for your body and health, it is also excellent for your brain. Studies have shown that exercise stimulates the production of a specific molecule - BDNF, or Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which strengthens neurons, increases long term potentiation (the attraction between the neurons), causes the synapses to grow, protects neurons from stress, and stimulates the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus. Moreover, aerobic activities like running, as well as strength training, stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which help focus your attention, retain material, and raise mental agility. Lab experiments showed that exercise stimulates the production of new neurons in the brain, specifically in the hippocampus, the area responsible for the integration of memories and learning. In a famous study on the effects of exercise on neuronal growth, some rats were equipped with a running wheel, and some were not. Those equipped with running wheels were divided into different groups, some of them given the opportunity to exercise for 2 hours, some for 4, and some for 8. The scientists found that those rats that could exercise had far more new neurons in their hippocampus than resting rats, and the more they exercised, the bigger was the growth (here is the source of this study).
Research on humans has shown that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster after the exercise than they did before the training. Exercise stimulates two- to threefold release of BDNF in humans, which helps us learn new things and retain those we have already learned.
Exercise stimulates important molecules in the brain that facilitate learning, improve attention and increase mental agility. Bu exercising, you literally "grow" new neutrons and increase neural connections in your brain.
Therefore, make yourself a rule to do some strength training or go running first thing in the morning. It's important that you exercise before you study, not after it. Therefore plan at least 10 minutes every morning for your training routine. As you grow more comfortable, increase that amount of time, but make sure you're consistent and exercise at least four times a week. You can do high-intensity workouts, bodyweight strength training like beginner's calisthenics, kettlebell work, sprints (just for 20-30 seconds, rest and repeat 3 to 5 times), or even light jogging. Remember, you don't only exercise to be healthy and fit; you run to be smarter.
It's also advisable that after aerobic or strength exercise, you do some exercise that requires more complex movement and coordination, such as yoga, balancing exercises, dancing, tennis. This will stimulate your "internal chemical factory" even more and produce neurotransmitters and growth factors required for keeping your brain healthy and sharp.
Moreover, you probably know that exercise reduces risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which also add to brain neurodegeneration with time. So just by exercising, you're protecting your body and mind from different risks, generate new brain cells, strengthen existing ones, help strengthen synapses, and generally become smarter and more fulfilled.
Advice #2: Surround yourself with rich environment and smart positive friends
Take care of your environment. Make sure you surround yourself with people who stimulate and enrich your brain rather than impoverish it. The environment not only means a company of smart and entrepreneurial people but activities that you can do on your own, such as reading, studying online, exercise regime, learning, practicing mentally challenging games.
A study on mice conducted by Donald Hebb compared the production of BDNF (as you already know, it's a growth factor that protections your nerve cells from stress, death, helps to create new synapses and grow new cells) in the mice that were locked in a cage without any stimulation, compared to those who had access to activities, sensory stimuli, and company of other mice. Scientists found out that those mice who had environmental stimulation performed much better on learning tasks than the mice placed in a poor environment. You can check the details of this study here.
Rich environment literally restructures your brain and makes it easier to learn and retain information
Donald Hebb called this observation a use-dependent plasticity - the phenomenon where synapses rearrange themselves under the stimulation of learning. The rats on Donald Hebb's study that were placed in an environment with social and sensory stimuli had altered the structure of their brain and even weighed more compared to the control group.
So what recommendations can we make out of this information? It's crucial to stimulate your brain. A social environment conducive to learning and inquiry makes us smarter automatically (proof here). Encircle yourself with curious friends, and you will get smarter even without learning anything. Setting yourself into a rich environment where you have to learn new things, solve problems, speak new languages, figure out stuff makes your brain more plastic, able to learn more easily and quickly.
Install some apps that stimulate your thinking (like Peak) or make you learn new stuff (like Duolingo, Coursera or EdX), and you are already enriching your environment dramatically. You can also enlist in one of the MOOCs online and provide your brain cells with ample stimulation.
A social environment conducive to learning and inquiry makes us smarter automatically. Setting yourself into a rich environment where you have to learn new things and solve problems makes your brain more plastic, able to learn more easily and quickly.
If you want to know more about how friends change us, read this book
So, after your morning run and before the classes, you can set your neurons that you generated by running to use by reading an information-dense book, practicing some complex skills like playing a musical instrument, learning some new words in a foreign language, doing assignments for your MOOC, or improving your mental faculties.
Sounds like a busy morning :)
Stay tuned for our next learning advice.
And as always, remember that if you are overwhelms with writing assignment, you can always rely on Personal-Writer.com to write you custom-written, high quality research papers and essays.