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Beneficial Effects of Exercise on Brain

Updated on September 3, 2020

We all are aware of beneficial effects of exercise on our health. It has also been labeled as an elixir for youth and longevity. But exercise has some great beneficial effects on the brain. It boosts mood and improves memory and learning. Even ten minutes of physical activity can affect changes in the brain. It imparts wonderful beneficial effects in all age groups. The following mechanisms are involved in the beneficial effects of exercise on brain in different ways.

  • It improves memory and performance of skilled tasks- Immediately after a bout of aerobic exercise, an individual has high levels of protein known as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is known to promote the health of the nerve cells. The increases in BDNF prompted by exercise play an important role in improving memory and recall. In some men, there is a tendency to a decline in the performance of some skilled tasks like driving in old age. It is attributed to the low level of BDNF due to genetic tendency in these people. Exercise improves the performance of skilled tasks in these people, thus offsetting the effects of low levels of BDNF.
  • It prevents Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia- Increased aerobic fitness can form new cells in the hippocampus of the brain, which is crucial for memory and learning. The individuals who do regular aerobic exercise have an increase in growth in the temporal and frontal areas of the brain, involved in executive control and memory processes. Thus, it helps to keep Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia at bay. It improves brain health by increasing blood flow to it. Exercise minimizes the plaque build up in the arteries of the brain, which is linked to improved performances on memory and mental acuity.
  • It counteracts the ill effects of stress- It reverses the harmful effects of stress. Exercise increases levels of brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine and endorphins, which help to blow off the stress and tension and impart a soothing effect to the body. Endorphins also lessen the threshold of the pain. A euphoric effect after a schedule of exercise is brought on by the same neuro-chemicals.
  • It increases resilience to stress - It has been found that exercise increases the brain's resilience to stress. This happens through elevated levels of the neuromodulator galanin, a protein that influences stress and mood, and has been implicated in stress-related psychiatric disorders. The increased galanin did not alter other aspects of behavior, suggesting galanin may be recruited only during periods of high stress.
  • It lessens depression, anxiety and tension- Regular and sustained exercise appears to stimulate the growth of neurons in certain areas of brain damaged by depression. So it acts as a natural ant-depressant. With regular exercise, the dose of the anti-depressant drugs gets reduced. Regular physical activity also enhances the production of a neurotransmitter called GABA (Gama Amino Butric acid), which inhibits the nerve transmission in the brain, calming the nervous activity and lessening anxiety and tension. Some anxiety disorders respond well to the calming effects of the exercise.
  • It promotes the growth of the brain- It improves learning by increasing the levels of brain chemicals called growth factors which promote the growth of new brain cells and establish new connections between cells to help us learn. This beneficial effect has been observed in all age groups.
  • It boosts confidence- It affects us psychologically by boosting our confidence and self-esteem by improving our fitness and change in body shape. It makes us mentally and physically smart. Persons who exercise regularly can think more clearly, perform better and have a higher morale. It stimulates the nervous system to function at a higher level.

The preliminary research on animals shows that exercise can make new stem cells to grow, refreshing the brain and other body parts. Regular exercise also promotes nerve growth factors.

The bottom line -

The above beneficial effects of regular and consistent exercise will give us an impetus to take up exercise and make it an important part of our daily routine to reap myriad of its benefits.

Reference -

Society for Neuroscience. "Brainstem protein mediates exercise-based stress relief: Exercise increases galanin in the brainstem, makes mice more resilient to stress." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 August 2020. <>.


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