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Does Playing Sports make us Smarter?

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Musculature of athletic body
Musculature © adimas -
We all know the old saying, “In a healthy body dwells a healthy mind.“ But is that really true? What does physical training do to the brain?

Everyone knows that exercise improves blood circulation and strengthens muscles. But physical training can do much more! It strengthens willpower, concentration and even changes our brain, according to studies. Whether running, biking or Pilates, almost any sport also helps us to be more balanced and attentive.

Our important organ between the ears works better in people who exercise regularly. But we shouldn't equate that with smartness. Let's just call it
  • higher attention,
  • more serenity and
  • better receptivity.
Athletes are thus more capable of learning!

You can read in this article how beneficial learning breaks and exercise are for attention. Exercise breaks during learning reduce nervousness and promote concentration. Studies show that kids are more attentive than usual after physical education.

Increasing the receptivity

If we do not move enough, our brain is less supplied with blood and we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to absorb more learning material. If we are physically active, this also has a positive effect on the growth of our nerves, because stimulating stimuli create new synapses and neurons are formed. Research shows that just 20 to 40 minutes of endurance training per day is enough to increase the "Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor" (BDNF) by 30%. The formation of new nerve cells helps us to better store experiences and facts. The sense of orientation also benefits from this.

Better memory

In addition to blood circulation, physical activity also influences the concentration of messenger substances in our blood. In this context, the increase in serotonin levels should be emphasized, which has a positive effect on our memory performance. In addition, serotonin has an anxiety-reducing effect and brightens our mood.

How sustainable are the positive effects?

They last for a while, but when no more training is done, they decrease again - similar to the fitness level. However, there are also longer-lasting effects, apparently we have a kind of "memory" as far as BDNF influence is concerned. Example: Ex-endurance athletes achieve a significantly higher BDNF increase than non-athletes after a two-week training break with only one unit. The latter would have needed several weeks of training for the same increase.


Sport does not make us smarter or more intelligent, but it does make us more capable of learning!
And positive side effects such as more inner peace or a better mood are gladly accepted.

© David Cain on Unsplash

This text was automatically translated from German to English by

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