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What Happens to Your Brain When You Exercise?

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

We all know that exercise is “good for you.” But what about the benefits that go beyond your heart and other muscles? Is there something more to exercise than the obvious changes you can observe in your physical health? An infographic from lifestyle blog Fix.com presents the findings of researchers who have explored this question extensively in “Your Brain On Exercise,” which appears below in this blog post.

7 Reasons to Exercise!

  1. Improves learning and mental performance.
  2. Prevents and treats dementia, Alzheimer’s, and brain aging.
  3. Reduces sensitivity to stress, depression, and anxiety.
  4. Increases functional activity of the temporal lobe, which is responsible for storing sensory memories.
  5. Encourages the pituitary gland to release endorphins.
  6. Reduces the impairment of brain cells and loss of coordination related to Parkinson’s disease.
  7. Increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which maintains and regenerates adult nerve cells.

Proven Benefits of Exercise…

A study of undergraduate students found that those who ran for 30 minutes had faster reaction times and vocabulary learning. Similarly, physically active women age 65 and older were less likely to develop cognitive decline. Don’t confuse “physical activity” for an intense training schedule. A simple 12-month walking routine has been proven to improve brain connectivity up to the level of a college-age young adult. Other benefits include:

  • A 25-year study found that higher cardiovascular fitness was associated with better verbal memory and reaction time.
  • Twice-weekly resistance training positively impacted the response inhibition processes.
  • Patients with psychiatric disorders that practiced yoga or walked for one hour, three times a week, showed higher GABA levels, improved mood, and decreased anxiety. (The yoga group showed greater progress than the walkers.)

Don’t Forget To Get the Kids Involved!

Studies suggest that physical activity is especially important for youth’s developing brains:

  • Any form of physical activity produced higher IQ and academic achievement test scores for school-aged children.
  • Just 10 minutes of exercise increased 13-16 year olds’ concentration and attention.
  • Exercise reduced symptoms in children diagnosed with ADHD.


Get Active With Your Houston Sports Doctor

Want to know more about how you can start exercising for both physical and mental health benefits? At Houston Institute for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, we love helping patients meet their health goals. To learn more about how you can get started with a training schedule that’s right for you, contact us at (713) 756-5546.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.