Exercise and the Brain: Get Smarter While You Get Stronger

There is a unique relationship between exercise and the brain. Studies are showing that exercise is just as beneficial for your brain as it is your body.

When you step into the gym, there’s a good chance you’re focused on burning fat, building muscle, and looking your best. Have you ever stopped to think how exercise could be helping your brain?

Let’s take a look at how exercise can help your brain, and how much you need to exercise to see real benefits.

Exercise and the Brain

Studies are revealing more and more the key link between the health of your brain and your level of physical activity, especially with resistance training and coordination-based fitness classes.

Decreases Inflammation

Exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation in the brain. This has dramatic implications on disease risk as most diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are started or exacerbated based on inflammatory responses in the body. [1]

Promotes Growth Hormone Release

Exercise, especially resistance training, can support healthy growth hormone production and release, which supports the health of your brain, cells, and communication channels.

Improves Your Memory

Students, listen up: Exercising can help your memory. Studies show that the group of subjects who exercised and partook in cognitive training showed far better results than the group that only went through cognitive tests. [2]

Releases Feel-Good Chemicals

Runners and frequent gym goers can tell you about the feeling of “exercise high.” Exercise helps to promote the production and release of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, which provide an instant pick-me-up.

Promotes Healthy Sleep

Exercise is considered one of the best ways to promote healthy sleeping patterns. It’s been shown to significantly improve sleep quality and length in those with insomnia. It’s no coincidence that those who don’t get sleep have been shown to have poor brain health.

Reduces Stress-Based Complications

The stress you feel from the morning commute to work or from dealing with clients all day can take a toll on your brain and body. Stress floods the brain with cortisol, a catabolic hormone, which can lead to poor cognitive health over time.

How Much Should You Exercise to Benefit the Brain?

If you want to maximize the benefits of exercise as they relate to your brain health, how much should you do? The Center for Disease Control recommends the following:

The Bare Minimum:

  • Moderate intensity exercise: At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week
  • OR
  • High intensity exercise: 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week
  • OR
  • A combination of both

For Maximum Benefit

  • Moderate intensity exercise: At least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week
  • OR
  • High intensity exercise: 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week
  • OR
  • A combination of both

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  1. Woods JA, Wilund KR, Martin SA, Kistler BM. Exercise, inflammation and aging. Aging Dis. 2012;3(1):130-140.
  2. Heisz JJ, Clark IB, Bonin K, Paolucci EM, Michalski B, Becker S, Fahnestock M. The Effects of Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on Memory and Neurotrophic Factors. J Cogn Neurosci. 2017 Nov;29(11):1895-1907. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01164. Epub 2017 Jul 12. PMID: 28699808.
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