How Does Exercise Help the Brain?

Exercise can increase your brain function.
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When you exercise, you are helping to improve your brain's functioning and your overall mood. Exercise benefits your ability to think, remember and reason. Cardio may benefit your brain more than strength training, so go for a jog or a walk or do another type of physical exercise for brain power.


Exercise may help improve your brain function and your mood. Cardio may offer more brain-boosting benefits than resistance training.

What Exercises Boost Your Brain?

Being physically active is associated with many different types of activities. For example, the American Heart Association recommends that you engage in moderate-intensity cardio exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes each week. The association also recommends that you participate in two days of high-intensity resistance training each week.

However, not all activities will boost your brain's functioning. According to Harvard Health Publishing, aerobic or cardio exercise can help increase the size of your hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for learning and verbal memory. However, resistance training does not produce the same results.

So if you're looking to improve brain function, you may want to consider engaging in cardiovascular activities. This may include walking briskly, running, jogging, cycling and even swimming.

You should be careful not to overdo it, though. Exercise can have negative effects if you overexert yourself. According to Washington & Lee University, some of the negative effects include increasing the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, becoming addicted to exercise or even potential heart problems.

Still, consistency is important with cardio workouts. You'll see fewer benefits from doing an occasional cardio activity than you will from doing cardio every day.

Read more: Positive and Negative Effects of Exercise

Exercise and the Brain: Facts

Harvard Health Publishing indicates that exercise helps both directly and indirectly to improve your brain function. It helps directly by:

  • Reducing insulin resistance.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Stimulating the release of growth factors, which help the health of brain cells, increase the number of blood vessels and help keep brain cells alive.

Indirectly, the benefits of exercise may include improving sleep, reducing anxiety and stress, and improving mood. These factors can enhance your overall sense of wellbeing.

Read more: The Advantages of Going to the Gym Every Day

According to a study published in Neurology in February 2019, cardio exercise can help prevent dementia and cognitive decline. The researchers recommend lifestyle changes such as adding more physical activity to your routine as a preventive measure.

In another recent study of older adults with some cognitive decline but no dementia, published in Neurology in January 2019, researchers found that aerobic exercises helped improve executive brain function. They also noted that the group that added aerobic exercise and the DASH diet, otherwise known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, saw the greatest improvement in their cognitive function.

Finally, according to the Cleveland Clinic, exercise can have a positive effect on the physical structure of your brain. The clinic suggests that some positive effects from exercise include the following:

  • Increasing the thickness of the cerebral cortex.
  • Improving the integrity of your white matter, the nerve fibers that connect areas of the brain's gray matter.
  • Greater neuroplasticity, which allows the brain to form new connections and adapt to life's changes.

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