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Learn to learn: why exercise is crucial to learning

Physical exercise produces a protein that aids neuron formation, helping the brain to work better

Exercise for learning

Julius Yego became the world javelin champion by watching YouTube videos, actively practising what he learned and exercising.

The exercise part is more important than you might think. Watch the below video. 

An important point here, aside from the fact that online materials can definitely help with a students’ ability to learn, is that exercise helps new neurons grow.


This article is part of a series by Professor Barbara Oakley called Learning How To Learn (L2L). A list of all the chapters will be available at this link from 16 April.


That’s because when people exercise, their brain makes a protein called BDNF. This protein is like fertiliser for neurons – it makes them strong and healthy. It also helps them to connect more easily with other neurons.

So, exercise is healthy not only for the body but also the brain. It can help a person make brain links more easily.

A healthy diet can help with learning, too. Eating healthily means adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to the diet. 

Avoid “fake foods”. These include highly processed foods, such as French fries, chips, chicken nuggets and anything with lots of sugar or white flour in it, like doughnuts.

This article is part of a series by Professor Barbara Oakley called Learning How To Learn (L2L). A list of all the chapters will be available at this link from 16 April.

Notes by Professor Barbara Oakley and ESIC Business and Marketing School. Videos reproduced with kind permission of the Arizona State University and Professor Barbara Oakley.

For more information, see Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens.

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