How Exercise Affects Your Brain

Wave after wave of studies, papers, articles and hypothesis exploring the links between mental and physical fitness are emerging from labs and universities all over the world. All this research will hopefully give us even more motivation to go get fit.

Brock Armstrong
7-minute read
Episode #353

4. Exercise Enhances Creativity

Creative types through the ages have claimed that walking aided their creative process and lately, psychologists gave it empirical support. A 2014 paper titled “Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking” showed that walking, either on a treadmill or around Stanford’s leafy campus, boosted creative thinking. Interestingly, it didn’t help convergent thinking which is generally defined as the ability to give the "correct" answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity,

5. Exercise Slows Cognitive Decline

To get this benefit, workouts don’t even need to be extreme. Once again 30-45 minutes of brisk walking, three times a week, can help fend off the mental wear and tear and delay the onset of dementia. Walking FTW!

And if walking isn’t your jam then twice weekly sessions of weight lifting can have a visible neurological impact. Or how about some dancing? Studies show that dancing may also be restorative. Just an hour of dance a week, for six months, boosted elderly individual’s cognitive well being.

6. Exercise Improves Circulation

Because exercise usually increases the heart rate, it helps deliver more oxygen and glucose to the brain which stimulates the brain’s synapses by preserving the number of acetylcholine receptors found at the junction of muscle and nerve. This is observed in the fact that active people have more receptors in their brains than inactive people.

7. Exercise Aids Learning and Memory

Even moderate physical exercise, such as our old friend walking, can boost memory functions, learning, and the ability for abstract reasoning. It is not completely understood how this works, but improved oxygenation and nutrition for the brain are likely the major factors.

8. Exercise Builds More Brain Cells

Up until 1999 the brain was thought to be complete at birth and not capable of growing new brain cells, but a Salk Institute study showed that the adult human brain is capable of producing new cells (neurogenesis). Although we don’t understand how, the one thing that is sure is that physical exercise helps build brains. The theory is that exercise stimulates the production of a very aptly named brain protein known as Noggin and this protein initiates the production of neurogenesis and stem cells.

9. Exercise Prevents Disease

According to the National Institutes of Health, being physically active may help to delay or prevent the decline of cognitive function associated with age. People who stay seated are twice as likely as people who bust-a-move to develop diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. 

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