7 Ways in Which Exercise Affects Your Brain and Improves Your Cognition

Discover how exercise affects the brain directly and indirectly and what types of workouts particularly benefit cognitive faculties.

7 Ways in Which Exercise Affects Your Brain and Improves Your Cognition main image

When discussing the benefits of exercising, we tend to highlight its impact on physical and, occasionally, mental health. However, it’s rarely emphasized how exercise affects the brain, its function, and its development.

Yet, this impact is far from negligible. In fact, experts have thoroughly explored the connection between exercise and cognition and established that regular workouts can do wonders for the mind.

In this article, we will introduce you to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain, supported by some of the latest research in this field.

So, let’s get started.

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7 Ways Exercise Affects Your Brain

Exercise affects your brain by increasing blood flow to it, lowering stress, improving sleep, promoting brain development, and having a beneficial effect on mental health.

Consequently, your memory will improve, you’ll process information much quicker, and you'll have an easier time focusing. In addition, you’re far less likely to struggle with brain fog if you work out consistently.

In the following section, we will explore how exercise affects the brain in more detail.

#1. Increases Blood Flow to the Brain

an image of a woman exercising trying to answer how does exercise affect the brain

an image of a woman exercising trying to answer how does exercise affect the brain

When you exercise, your heart pumps blood faster, increasing its flow throughout the body. As a result, more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your muscles, which can then perform better.

However, it’s not just muscles that benefit from exercise. Other organs, including the brain, get an increased blood supply, along with all the nutrients and oxygen. That leads to an overall healthier body as well as better cognitive performance.

In fact, the brain alone consumes approximately 20% of the total oxygen supply, and that number may be even higher when you’re thinking hard. So, to ensure it retains a superb processing speed, you should keep the blood supply high.

Any cardio will increase your blood flow, but we suggest improving your brain’s performance with aerobic exercises. After only a few weeks, you’ll see significant changes in your physical health as well as your cognition.

#2. Improves Your Memory

a birds-eye view of a city

a birds-eye view of a city

A crucial cognitive skill that gets a significant boost through exercise is memory. This happens in two ways: through the direct influence of exercise on the brain and its indirect impact on mental health.

Studies have shown that exercise increases the volume of hippocampal regions—areas of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. As a result, those who consistently work out over a long period of time have a markedly lower chance of experiencing cognitive decline or developing dementia.

Aside from this direct impact, exercise helps with managing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which often have a negative effect on working and long-term memory.

#3. Lowers Stress

how does exercise affect the brain by reducing stress

how does exercise affect the brain by reducing stress

When we talk about how exercise indirectly benefits the brain, we can’t disregard its stress-relieving effects. You’ve likely noticed it yourself—after a good workout, you typically feel light and relaxed, less weighed down by your worries than before.

When your mind isn’t overwhelmed by stress, it can process information faster, memorize quicker, and make better decisions. Its energy is not being expended on trying to simultaneously manage uncomfortable thoughts and worries so it can reach its full potential.

#4. Promotes Brain Development

an image of a person holding a light bulb

an image of a person holding a light bulb

Did you know that physical exercise can stimulate brain development? Namely, when you exercise regularly, a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is released into the brain. This protein is responsible for the growth of existing neurons as well as the creation of new ones.

In other words, your cognitive capacities literally grow as you exercise, especially when you do it consistently. This effect is noticeable regardless of age, but it carries significant implications for children, as their brains are particularly susceptible to outside influences.

Ultimately, to help your children grow into intelligent adults or improve your own cognitive ability, consider aerobic exercises. Their effect on BDNF production is particularly notable.

#5. Clears Brain Fog

how does exercise affect the brain - cleans brain fog

how does exercise affect the brain - cleans brain fog

Brain fog may make you feel disoriented, dazed, and as if you can’t think clearly and effectively process information. As a result, you might struggle to make even the simplest decisions or complete tasks that you usually don’t find challenging.

Although the treatment of brain fog largely depends on its cause, exercise can improve cognitive function and alleviate some of its symptoms. That’s especially true if brain fog is caused by depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders that can be somewhat relieved through physical activity.

#6. Improves Sleep

an image of a woman smiling while sleeping

an image of a woman smiling while sleeping

If you often struggle to fall asleep or maintain a consistent sleep quality, you might notice that you can’t think as quickly and clearly as you’d like to. After all, sleep disorders are a leading cause of brain fog, decreased cognitive function, and increased stress.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to fix your sleep and restore your cognitive function to what it was like before your problems started.

However, exercise can be a good starting point. Aside from relieving stress, which may lead to insomnia, strenuous physical activity increases your body’s need for sleep. As a result, you’re far less likely to toss and turn in your bed the whole night.

#7. Enhances Focus

how does exercise affect the brain - focus

how does exercise affect the brain - focus

Taking a brisk walk or going for a jog when you’re in the middle of a mentally taxing assignment can do wonders for your concentration. That’s partly because briefly shifting focus helps your brain get the necessary rest and gives it time to process and synthesize information.

However, it’s also because exercise benefits the brain directly, feeding it with oxygen and necessary nutrients. As a result, your mind feels refreshed and has an easier time focusing on the task at hand, no matter how challenging it might be.

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Final Thoughts

It’s clear that, in addition to its numerous health benefits, exercise improves memory, brain function, and cognition overall. The more consistently you work out, the more likely you are to experience and notice the difference, but even just an occasional visit to the gym can do wonders.

That said, the type and quality of the workout can’t be disregarded either. As a rule, the best physical exercise for the brain is cardio, since it gets your heart rate up and your blood pumping.

So, stop making excuses and grab your jogging sneakers. Your brain and body will be grateful!

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