How Physical Exercise Can Help Control Your GMAT Test Anxiety

In the first part of this article we discussed recent research indicating that exercise is the only way to create new brain cells, protect existing brain cells, and form new neural networks. If that list is not enough, aerobic exercise is also an important component of healthy emotions and possibly even control of test anxiety.

Emotional Control and Exercise

Numerous studies indicate that multitasking can cause people to have difficulty in controlling their emotions. Rapidly switching from one task to another makes emotional control difficult. Exercise works in the opposite direction. In particular exercise can help control anxiety.

The New York Times article, “How Exercise can Calm Anxiety,” indicates, “For some time, scientists studying exercise have been puzzled by physical activity’s two seemingly incompatible effects on the brain. On the one hand, exercise is known to prompt the creation of new and very excitable brain cells. At the same time, exercise can induce an overall pattern of calm in certain parts of the brain.”

What happens is that exercise helps to produce “nanny-neurons” which go around telling the excitable neurons not to overreact. Rats that had exercised consistently were better able to react at an appropriate level to stresses. In other words, rats that had a recent history of exercise were better able to react with an appropriate level of emotion and not turn a minor situation into a major source of stress. And the effect was not due to being tired from having just exercised, “Instead, the difference in stress response between the runners and the sedentary animals reflected fundamental remodeling of their brains.”

So exercise improves your memory, protects your brain cells, and helps you to control emotions. But is the change permanent?

Keep Exercising or Start Now!

It turns out that the brain benefits of exercising – including improved memory and emotional control – are not permanent. Like other physical changes, the positive impacts on the brain wear off if exercise is stopped. As reported in the article, “Do the Brain Benefits of Exercise Last?”, rats that had exercised frequently were able to maintain their mental and emotional advantages over the sedentary rats for a week or two without exercise. But after three weeks, “It was as if they had never run.”

The good news is that you can boost the creation of new brain cells and neural networks very quickly. After just a week of constant exercise, rats were beginning to show the positive effects! The challenge is that you have to keep it up. As the article states, “For the ongoing health of our minds, as well as for the plentiful other health benefits of exercise, it might be wise to stick to those New Year’s exercise resolutions.”

Study hard for the GMAT, but take time to exercise! Getting at least 30 minutes of cardio 3 – 4 times per week can do much more for your GMAT score than perhaps any other use of 2 hours of your time.

Author’s note: As you can see from both parts this article, I am a big fan of the New York Times, particularly the science, technical and travel writing. If you are seeking to improve your reading ability and English vocabulary you might want to get a digital subscription to the New York Times.

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here