Exercise for your brain

Exercise for your brain


If you aren’t getting fit for your body, do it for your mind.

We already know that physical activity is an important factor in our daily lives. But many people don’t realize just how important exercise is for the body. Not only does daily exercise help to control weight, but it strengthens bones, muscles, and it even reduces the risk of developing some of the top diseases.

As if the physical benefits aren’t enough, focusing on fitness can also benefit your overall mental health in a serious way. Starting in the 1970’s, researchers began looking into the effects of physical activity beyond the obvious ones like weight loss and strength building. It was quickly realized that the fitness fanatics who were going on these things called “jogs” were actually happier than the average person. For the past 35 years or so, we’ve been able to get closer to finding answers about just how amazing and necessary exercise can be for a person.

Cognitive Function

So here’s something crazy. Remember when there was all of that talk about removing phys ed. programs from schools? Around the same time, some research was conducted which was able to determine an actual correlation between children’s time spent in phys ed. class and their performance scores on standardized tests. In fact a researcher by the name of Castelli was even able to determine that the children who were involved in regular phys ed classes, after school sports, or engaged in plenty of exercise, had higher academic achievement across the board – particularly in math and science.

The amazing effects of exercise don’t stop once you have graduated high school. The physical activity that you worked so hard to achieve early in life ultimately leads to a decreased chance of developing brain deteriorating diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

So far, the science is pretty strong to suggest that staying fit can actually affect your genes, brain morphology and biochemistry, and eventually lead to better cognitive performance. What does that mean? It means that those who engage in regular exercise have better memory, better focus, and their brains function at a higher level. Woohoo!


But wait, there’s more! Your fitness level isn’t going to just affect your ability to do the Sunday crosswords. If you’ve ever gone out for a walk or jog after a hard day, you felt better! Didn’t you? That’s because exercise has been strongly linked to mood enhancement. Researchers have found physical activity to be just as effective in curing depression as prescription antidepressants. In a series of studies from Columbia University, it was found that 2.5 to 7.5 hours of exercise per week was ideal for optimum mood enhancement (happiness!). Another study from Boston University showed that after only 5 minutes of physical activity, those mood enhancing effects could be felt. These benefits were extremely strong for two groups in particular: women and individuals over 40.

In addition, exercise was found to produce the best effect when the fitness programs were carried out for longer than 9 weeks and included a greater number of sessions.


It’s no surprise after learning about the incredible mental impact that exercise can have, that it’s also a beneficial cure for many other emotional related ailments. It’s long been understood that exercise is a great stress reliever and has been found recently to ease long term anxiety in adults. Simply making time to exercise twice a week showed a significant decrease in the stress levels of study participants.

There are tons of explanations (scientific or otherwise) to reason why physical activity has such a profound effect on the human body. Most explanations involve endorphins, serotonin, norepinephrine, or even something called the “endogenous cannabinoid receptors” in the brain. It’s certain that exercise does indeed produce a biochemical reaction within the body which enables us to gain its incredible benefits. Other scientists point to the plain old feeling of accomplishment that stems from a successful endeavor. No matter which way you look at it, if you aren’t getting fit for your body, do it for your brain. Exercise = Happiness

Written by Amber O’Neal

Amber O'Neal

With over 12 years of professional health and wellness experience, Amber is well-respected by her peers in the fitness and nutrition community. In addition to speaking to corporate and community audiences, she is a freelance fitness and nutrition writer and media expert who has been featured in numerous newspapers and magazines including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Marie Claire, and Heart & Soul. Her television appearances include CBS, NBC and FOX affiliates as well as the NBC Nightly News.