Exercise and the Brain

Exercise and the Brain

By: Andrea Poteet-Bell

Exercise and the Brain

For those of us living a sedentary lifestyle, it's absolutely necessary to find a consistent routine for physical activity. Those who exercise regularly enjoy various health benefits, including a healthy weight, a lower blood cholesterol level, a boost in energy, a reduced risk of disease or cancer, and a better chance at living a long and prosperous life. In the long run, maintaining a good exercise routine will help you avoid expensive healthcare bills and live a high quality of life. 

But exercise has more than just physical benefits; we often need physical activity as a way to boost our moods. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two concepts are connected to each other through our bodies and minds.

How Physical Activity Changes the Brain

Exercise has both short-term and long-term impacts on brain function. During movement, blood flows throughout the body, increasing functionality everywhere. This process pumps blood, oxygen, and nutrients into the brain, which enables the stimulation of brain cells that would otherwise be slow or inactive. This stimulation also helps to replace damaged brain cells with new ones. In terms of brain plasticity, new connections and pathways are formed, aiding in areas like information processing and memory. In the long term, exercise can boost cell growth in different regions, ultimately increasing the likelihood of function.

The Daily Benefits of Exercise

In the short term, a workout results in a spike in brain activity for the day. It can also reduce stress hormones present throughout the body, temporarily boosting your mood for the rest of the day. For those of us who are feeling a mental slog, it often takes some quick physical movement to clear the brain fog and jumpstart the day. An adrenaline spike is great for redirecting your attention and stimulating blood flow throughout the body.

While long-form exercise will yield the best results for you, any movement is better than nothing. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, then it’s recommended that you interrupt repetitive, static posturing through microbreaks. A simple stretch can change your posture and refocus your mind. 

Hormones That Affect the Brain and Body

Exercise tends to release feel-good hormones that aid in a person's state of mind. People who work out for long bouts of time experience a runner's high, the relaxed state of euphoria caused by the release of endorphins. The hormones that are released during exercise are also associated with increased cell growth in the hippocampus, a region that controls memory and learning ability.

To achieve a runner's high, you usually have to run at least 30 minutes at 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for an extended period of time. Many long-term runners claim that running can be addictive, as they are constantly seeking out the next runner's high.

Combating Mental Health Conditions

In the long term, exercise is great for reducing the symptoms related to issues such as depression or anxiety. These conditions are often caused by abnormal brain activity and can be somewhat addressed by taking the proper stress management techniques. Anxious people tend to have an excess of stress hormones, and those hormones can be regulated with enough exercise. Exercise also releases antidepressant hormones, a key strategy in reducing feelings of depression. Physical movement is great at distracting you from negative thought patterns; think of exercise as a physical form of meditation where the movement helps you to focus and calm the mind.

Improving Sleep Health 

Exercise can decrease insomnia and improve your overall quality of sleep. Sleep is a vital act that gives your brain time to rest and recover for the future. Exercise is good for generating melatonin, the pineal gland hormone that helps you sleep. Those who regularly exercise tend to have better sleeping rhythms as well as a deeper quality of sleep.

Best Workout Routines for Boosting Brain Function

If you’re aiming to improve brain function, there are certain workout activities you can do. Aerobic exercise, particularly running, is known for improving your thinking patterns. Running is a repetitive process that allows your thoughts to slow down and focus on the movement of your body. Whatever exercise routine that you go with, the key to boosting brain activity is to work out on a regular basis.

Seeking Mental Health Help Through Physical Activity

When left untreated, a mental health problem can lead to other issues like drug addiction. If you are looking for help on how to deal with a mental health problem, consider seeking care from a professional. The right specialist may be able to give you proper guidance in stress management, including advice on how to get the best mental benefits from exercise.


Article contributed by Andrea Poteet-Bell

Andrea Poteet-Bell is editor, author and content writer at Sunshine Behavioral Health - a leader in residential addiction treatment. Andrea has a degree in print journalism and she lives in Michigan with her husband and dog.


Request a

Free trial

Move towards a healthier workplace.

Follow us on Instagram