Brain Benefits of Exercise

Posted in Wellness

The first clue that exercise affects the brain came from rodent studies 15 years ago, which showed that allowing mice access to a running wheel led to a boost in neuron formation in their hippocampi, areas of the brain essential for memory. That's because
exercise causes hippocampal neurons to pump out a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth of new neurons.

These findings were soon translated to humans. Today we know that exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts, ranging from the molecular to behavioural level. The following explanations are findings on how exercise help your brain:
Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain. The blood delivers oxygen and glucose, which the brain needs for alertness and mental focus. Because of this, exercise makes it easier for children to learn. Studies shows that aerobic exercise regimen can significantly increase blood flow to the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

Exercise is one of the few ways scientists have found to generate new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the centre of learning and memory in the brain. People who exercise regularly have improved short-term memory, exhibit faster reaction time, and have higher level of creativity.

Intense exercise increases levels of two common neurotransmitters -- glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA -- that are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain.

Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

All these mental benefits of exercise are not just for adults, but for kids, too. Exercise is crucial for kids’ developing brains. Those who get more exercise tend to get better grades, have better concentration, and even get a better night’s sleep.

Just like different types of exercise have different effects on the body, new research shows that different types of exercise directly affect different areas of your brain and can improve specific mental functions.

To help your mind to become or stay as fit and strong as your body, choosing the “right” workout may help you.

Find out eight ways exercise can boost your brain:

• Improve working memory - surfing, running, climbing trees

• Boost creativity - dance or stroll

• Anxiety, nervousness - yoga helps to de-stress

• Immediate attention - unstructured play

• Long-term focus - play sports, for example football, basketball

• Keep the brain young - running, yoga

• Curb cravings - interval sprints and others high-intensity interval trainings; one explanation for this is that HIIT style exercise reduces the levels of the “hunger hormone”, ghrelin1, which tells your brain that your stomach is empty.

• Problem-solving, complex thinking multi-tasking - lifting weights is linked to improve these areas, all of which are controlled by your prefrontal cortex.


Pereira AC, et al. (2007) An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:5638–5643.

Chaddock L et al. Physical Activity and Fitness Effects on Cognition and Brain Health in Children and Older Adults Kinesiology Review, 2012, 1, 37-45
R. J. Maddock, G. A. Casazza, D. H. Fernandez, M. I. Maddock. Acute Modulation of Cortical Glutamate and GABA Content by Physical Activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (8): 2449

Erickson KI et al.Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 15;108(7):3017-22.

R. J. Maddock, G. A. Casazza, D. H. Fernandez, M. I. Maddock. Acute Modulation of Cortical Glutamate and GABA Content by Physical Activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (8): 2449

Posted in Wellness