Jun 26, 2019
How Exercise Improves Cognitive Function and Overall Brain Health
Take the right steps to improve cognitive function. Learn how exercise can help in supercharging your cognitive abilities in this article!
5 Benefits of Exercise to Improve Cognitive Function
Exercise for Better Cognition and Protection Against Cognitive Decline
Do you know you can use exercise to improve cognitive function?
You probably already know regular exercise is good for your heart and maintaining a healthy weight and strong muscles, but getting your heart racing can actually help to boost your thinking skills and brain health. There are plenty of good reasons to exercise, whether you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or just feel better about yourself.
But exercise can change the brain, helping to protect cognitive function and memory. That includes both long-term memory and short-term memory.
That’s why you should try to exercise daily, even if it’s only just a brief walk. You should get your body moving to keep your brain healthy.
Here are some of the benefits your brain gets from regular exercise:
Improves brain function and memory
Protects thinking skills
Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety
Promotes better sleep
The Brain and Exercise
Apart from the physiological benefits that come from exercising, it can do wonders for your brain, too. Exercise works to boost your memory and thinking skills in both an indirect and direct way.
Exercise acts directly on the body and triggers physiological responses such as changes in insulin levels, inflammation, and the release of endorphins.
It also promotes the production of growth factors. These chemicals affect the growth of new brain cells and therefore, actively impact the health of the brain overall.
Enhancing Cognitive Health
The indirect effect of exercise comes from its impact on mood, sleep, stress, and anxiety. Improved sleep and mood and reduced stress and anxiety can lead to better cognitive function and concentration on daily tasks.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking are larger in people who exercise. One study published in Neurology found that poor physical fitness in middle age may be associated with smaller brain size later on in life.
Following a healthy lifestyle and eating proper whole foods can help to boost your brain naturally and clear up brain fog. Older adults, in particular, need to exercise to reduce cognitive impairment due to aging.
Physical Exercise and Focus
Besides the science that supports exercising to keep your brain healthy, I personally noticed a difference in my own brain functioning when I started my day with exercise. I truly feel the difference between the days when I exercise in the morning before work and when I exercise in the afternoon.
Though any exercise you can fit in at whatever time of day will definitely help your brain, when I start my day with exercise, I noticeI’m more focused at work and more productive.
I even have more energy during the workday despite waking up earlier to get my exercise in first thing.
The moral of the story is no matter what time you decide to exercise, it’s going to help your cognitive functioning. So, always be sure to exercise.
How Often Should You Exercise?
How much exercise do you need to feel the brain-boosting benefits? Almost all studies carried out into exercise and the brain have been based on walking.
However, experts believe aerobic exercise of any form still delivers the same benefits. It still enhances your cognitive performance.
In a massive study by Yale and Oxford Universities, researchers gathered data on 1.2 million Americans. They found that those who exercised reported having 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health every month.
In the largest observational study of its kind, researchers found that team sports, aerobics, cycling, and going to the gym offer the biggest reductions.
In terms of duration, the results of the study suggest that more isn’t necessarily better. Exercising for 45 minutes roughly three to five times a week was associated with most benefits.
The CDC recommends adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, so try to get in 150 minutes per week at least up to 225 minutes.
That means you could have one day where you only exercise for 15 minutes because it’s a busy day. And the next day, maybe you take an hour-long workout.
In other words, you can always find time to exercise to improve cognitive function.
How Does Exercise Affect Memory and Brain Health?
So now we know exercise does indeed help our brain functioning, what are some of the specific benefits you might experience from incorporating exercise into your day more often?
1. Improve Brain Function and Memory
It prevents mild cognitive impairment by improving blood flow. To start with, exercise sends your heart racing, which pumps blood around your body, increasing the oxygen to your brain.
Exercise can also help to stimulate the production of growth hormones that help to create new brain cells.
In a study at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping and body sweating appears to boost the size of the hippocampus . This part of the brain is involved in verbal learning and memory.
Many studies have shown that exercise may increase the secretion of neuroprotective proteins and the development of neurons, leading to better overall brain health.
What are neurons? These are nerve cells that make up the nervous system. They are responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to various parts of the body.
2. Protect Thinking Skills and Memory Function
Exercise may have a very important role in protecting brain function and memory as you age. Regular physical activity is especially important for older adults.
Aging, combined with oxidative stress and inflammation, can encourage changes in the brain structure and function that can lead to impaired cognitive function.
To be specific, it reduces the risk of cognitive dysfunction, especially dementia or Alzheimer’s. Dementia is a general term used for a decline in mental ability or other thinking skills severe enough to impact your daily life.
Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common types of dementia. Someone in the United States develops the disease every 65 seconds .
Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce changes in the brain that could lead to Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia .
3. Boost Your Concentration and Energy
Exercising in the morning helps set you up for the day and increase your level of concentration.
One study found that even just 20 minutes of yoga led to significantly improved speed and accuracy on memory tests.
This study, however, is limited as it has a narrow sample size. Still, yoga focuses on deep breathing , which increases oxygen intake, thus improving brain function.
Another study of 144 people aged 19 to 93 found that a short 15-minute bout of exercise on a stationary bike led to improved cognitive function and memory across all age groups.
4. Reduce Stress, Depression, and Anxiety
One of the cognitive benefits of exercise is letting you cope with life’s challenges. Exercise can help boost thinking and memory indirectly by improving one’s mood and reducing stress, depression, and anxiety.
All of these can frequently lead to problems in cognitive functioning such as thinking and recall. Chronic stress can have a number of effects on the brain including:
Increases the risk of mental illness
Changes the brain’s structure
Shrinks the brain
Kills brain cells
Impacts your memory negatively
Exercise has been shown to decrease feelings of depression , anxiety, and stress. It can help to bring about changes in the brain that regulate anxiety and stress.
It increases brain sensitivity for the hormone serotonin, which can relieve depression. Exercise can increase the levels of endorphins in the body, which are known to produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.
When it comes to mood, it appears the intensity of your workout doesn’t matter in terms of getting the most benefits. It’s suggested that your mood can benefit no matter the intensity.
In one study in 24 women who had been diagnosed with depression, researchers found that exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression .
5. Better Sleep
If you have sleeping disorders like insomnia, make working out a form of intervention. Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better.
By getting a better night’s sleep , you feel more alert and are able to concentrate for longer. Physical activity can increase body temperature, which can have relaxing effects on the mind, leading to more shut-eye.
One study found that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week can increase sleep quality by up to 65%.
Another study showed that 16 weeks of exercise increased sleep quality and prolonged periods of sleep in 17 people with insomnia. It also helped them feel energized for the day.
Whether it’s aerobic or resistance training, exercise helps promote better quality sleep, giving you a clear head for the day.
What’s more, exercise is especially beneficial for the elderly who are affected by sleep disorders.
Taking part in regular exercise has scientifically proven benefits to both the body and the mind. Exercise benefits memory, learning skills, and overall brain health.
Learn these top 5 brain boosters from Sunwarrior:
You don’t need complex exercises to improve cognitive function. Whether you’re hitting the gym or cycling, exercise promotes relaxation and better sleep while reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which encourage a healthy and positive mind.
You can also complement exercise and further boost your brain power. Besides the right diet, supplements such as Sunwarrior Omega-3 nourishes your mind with the best nutrients.
Do you know other ways of how exercise enhances brain functions? Share your knowledge in the comments section below!