Benefits of exercise on the brain: How does exercise help?

You’ve probably heard before how the brain is “like a muscle” and just like our other muscles, we need to exercise it regularly. But how can we do that? We can’t flex our brain like we flex our muscles. But exercising the body’s muscles can help your brain in so many different ways. Read below to find out more about the benefits of exercise on the brain!

Benefits of exercise on the brain
Benefits of exercise on the brain

What benefits does exercise do to the brain?

Just like exercise promotes the growth of new muscle cells, exercise can help the growth of neurons! When we exercise our muscles, a protein called FNDC5 is released from the muscles. This triggers another protein in the brain, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF for short. This protein helps the brain nourish new synapses and connections, preserve existing connections, and plays a critical role in learning and memory. The hormones released during exercise also contributes to the growth of more neural connections. These hormones also work to wash away some of the detrimental effects of stress.

Exercise causes your heart to pump more blood to all areas of the body, but most importantly- the brain. Benefits of exercise on the brain is that it allows the brain to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs. With more resources, the brain can function much more efficiently. This means that you might find yourself thinking clearer, concentrating better, and retaining more information. This all sounds like awesome news, but remember that the brain has limits too. Studies have found that high-intensity workouts actually decrease the amount of oxygen heading to the brain. This is because more oxygen is diverted to your muscles. The drop of oxygen in the brain can hinder muscle coordination, which leads to muscle fatigue.

Benefits of exercise on the brain is that it has a “use it or lose it” policy (neuroplasticity). This means that passive activities that don’t really challenge the brain to weaken the connections we already have. Think about it this way: someone who knows how to read has neural pathways that don’t exist in the brain of someone who can’t read. Using those pathways is what allows a person to read, but not using those pathways for a long period of time can lead to the decline in that skill. With that being said, the brain loves to learn new things. But the longer the brain is passive, the more likely it is to atrophy. So new exercises and activities that keep the brain learning will also contribute to better brain function.

Benefits of exercise on the brain

Cognitive Benefits of Exercise on the brain

Executive Function

Executive functions include inhibition, planning, shifting, etc. Regarding benefits of exercise on the brain, researchers have found that healthy people who engage in exercise optimize their higher order brain functions. A meta-analysis that reviewed 18 different papers established that in sedentary people the cognitive benefits observed were best in executive functions.

Increase in IQ

There have been speculations about the benefits of exercise on the brain and that exercising can help your brain get sharper to the point of increasing your IQ. This study found a link between cardiovascular health and performance on IQ tests. They established that adolescents who improved their cardiovascular health between ages 15-18 saw an increase in their IQ.

Increase your Concentration

Benefits of exercise on the brain are not only for adults but also children. In a study conducted on school children, researchers found that exercise can help to improve executive control. This means that the children were better at filtering out distractions, staying focused, multitasking, and manipulating information in their minds than those who did not exercise regularly. This works so well that it is actually used as a treatment for ADHD, as an alternative or supplement to medications. Exercise benefits your concentration because of the new neural connections. The more you’re using these connections, the stronger the connections get. But achieving this cognitive improvement doesn’t have to be too complicated of a task. Just by doing exercises that target coordination skills, you can improve your concentration. For example, playing catch or tennis can improve coordination.

Increase Cognitive Flexibility

Today life is filled with multi tasks and dividing our attention constantly, therefore, seeing the benefits of exercise on the brain is difficult. In 2009 a study found that aerobic exercise correlated positively with mental speed, attention, and cognitive flexibility. The one with most statistical significance was cognitive flexibility.

More Willpower

Willpower is the main aspect to lead a successful life and it is closely related to the brain’s executive function. One of the benefits of exercise on the brain is that it can help you keep your personal and professional goals on track. A study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine established that short periods of exercise helped inhibition and interference, therefore, increasing willpower.


The hippocampus (Know your brain!), the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory, changes when we exercise. The surge in hormones and the protein BDNF allows new neural connections to grow in this area, causing it to grow larger. This means that exercise can really help to improve memory. Studies have shown that people who exercise have greater density in the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices, which are responsible in part for thinking and memory. It has also been shown that one of the benefits of exercise on the brain is that it can help memory formation. For example, it would be easier to remember words in a foreign language after you’ve exercised than if you didn’t exercise at all.

Control your emotions

Ability to control your emotions is part of a cognitive control that is important for day to day life. The fact that you are able to continue your day despite feeling sad or angry is part of the emotional regulation.

Researchers have found positive changes in behavioral patterns on people who exercise regularly and a decrease in emotional stress and increase in emotional control.

Psychological Benefits of Exercise on the brain

Mental Health

Ever heard of the “runner’s high”? Well, it’s a real thing! Endorphins are the body’s own pain killers, causing you to feel happy after intense exercise. The body also releases a chemical called endocannabinoid, which causes feelings of calmness after challenging exercise. There are so many things that exercise does for mental health, but here are a few:

One exercise that really helps it yoga. Yoga can help you lower levels of anxiety and bring your body out of the “fight or flight” stage that stress can cause. This is because it focuses on deliberate breathing and movement that tunes into the body’s relaxation response.

Raise Emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience is the ability for a person to maintain good and positive mood through stressful situations. Researchers established that people who were physically fit had smaller declines in positive moods than other sedentary people. Benefits of exercise on the brain can help protect us from day to day job stress and acute stress.

Increase pain tolerance

Your body reduces pain while exercise because it releases endorphins and other chemicals. People who exercise intensely at least twice a week increase their tolerance for pain said Jones in an Australian study. They didn’t feel less pain but rather changed mentally about the evaluation of the pain. 

Fight and Prevent Depression

Exercise has been found to be a great way to fight depression. A large study established that exercise can produce moderate relief from depression and can be compared to therapy or drugs.

Another study also found that exercising helps fight depression symptoms as well as prevent them. They found that the protein FNDC5 builds in your body when you exercise and it helps the body eliminate stress hormones and shields the brain from depression symptoms.

Neurobiological Benefits of Exercise on the brain

Your brain is the most important organ in your body as we explained previously. Exercise enhances the connections in your brain and helps neuroplasticity develop and maintain itself.

The proteins and hormones help the brain:

  • Increase resilience to stress
  • Increase its energy
  • Reduce Fatigue
  • Slow down brain atrophy
  • Increase Neuroplasticity

Lifestyle Benefits of Exercise on the brain

Some of the most important benefits are:

  • Treat Anxiety Disorders
  • Help people with ADHD
  • Improves Sleep quality
  • Reduces migraines and headaches
  • Reduces Risk of Stroke
  • Lessens Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Increases Productivity
  • Keeps you moving and less sedentary
  • Boosts Creative Thinking
  • Helps recover from drug addictions
  • Improves Academic Performance

Watch the following video to learn more how exercise helps your brain reorganize.

Choosing the right exercise

Whatever you do, just don’t stay still. There are so many benefits of exercise on the brain that anything is helpful. There is no specific exercise that is the magic key to having a healthy brain. Just choose an exercise that you enjoy and stick to it, your brain will thank you for it! If you’re looking for some exercise inspiration, then check out some tips below:

It’s recommended to exercise for at least half an hour for about 5 days a week.

If that seem’s like too much, then work your way up! Start with a few minutes a day, whether it’s just taking stairs or walking to work. Then increase the time, so that you can eventually reach your goal.

Anything can be exercise if you put enough work into it!

Doing household chores such as intense mopping, or vacuuming can get your heart pumping and still bring the same effects.

Be consistent!

If you feel like you won’t be able to keep a consistent exercise schedule by yourself, then try it with a friend. Studies have also shown that working out with friends can increase the number of feel-good chemicals released during exercise.

Everything is great in moderation!

Be careful not to work yourself out too hard. Intense exercise can start to reverse some of the benefits that you get from light to moderate exercise. Just be sure to pace yourself, and know your body’s limits.

Benefits of Exercise on the brain- Choosing the right workout

Choosing the right type of exercise can pose a difficult task. Here are a few questions to help you get on track to achieve all the benefits of exercise on the brain.

1.What is your goal?

Ask yourself if you want to train to lead a healthier life or if you want to lose weight. The goals are different and each goal has exercises that help you achieve them faster.

2. What parts of your body do you want to train?

Do you want to train your whole body or just your muscles? Keep in mind that you can also train joints, breathing, circulation, coordination, and balance.

3. Does your training schedule fit your life schedule?

Remember that your training program is meant to reduce stress not create stress, therefore try to plan your training sessions around your life to fit perfectly into your plans. If this is done properly it will be easier to make a habit out of these training sessions.

4. Adjust your exercise to help you in your daily life

Each exercise helps you do certain activities and makes you prepared for different tasks. Choose an activity you can benefit from not only in terms of exercise but in your daily life. If you need to relax, exercises that teach you breathing techniques can help you adapt those to stressful situations. Watch the benefits of Yoga for your Brain below.

Did we leave you with any questions? Please comment below! 🙂

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