|By Hana Frenette|
Regular exercise has a multitude of benefits—improved heart and lung capabilities, increased stamina, weight control, muscle toning, lower blood pressure—but one of the biggest benefits of physical activity is a major boost in brain function and memory retention.
Several studies have shown exercise is just as good for your mind as it is for your body. Take a look at the specific biological benefits of a quick jog, bike ride or lap around the pool:
Increased Cognitive Function and Memory Retention
When you exercise, your heart rate increases, which increases blood flow to the brain. This brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain, increasing the release of beneficial proteins that help keep your brain healthy, while also promoting the growth of new brain cells, or neurons. Neurons serve as the building blocks of the brain, and studies show their overall health helps contribute to increased focus, improved memory and decreased brain fog.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Moderate aerobic physical activity, like a brisk walk, jog, aerobics class or spin class, stimulates the brain’s release of endorphins, a “feel good” chemical that counteracts the body’s stress hormones and works as a natural mood booster and helps keep anxiety at bay. Consistent exercise encourages your brain to regularly release endorphins, which can contribute to long-term stress and anxiety reduction.
Studies show that exercise releases additional mood-boosting chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. While these chemicals provide an immediate positive effect, they’re also contributing to a longer-term boost for your brain. Exercise helps create new neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain— the area associated with emotions, learning and memory— and can lead to more consistent emotional regulation and stability. Physical activity also contributes to better sleep, which in turn leads to a more positive and focused mental state.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
How much exercise is enough to experience the positive effects of brain function? Any amount of exercise is better than none, but experts say 150 minutes of moderate-impact aerobic exercise each week— whether that’s broken down into smaller 20 minute sessions a day, or hour-long sessions a few times a week, will yield brain-boosting results in both the short and long term.
Easy forms of exercise to incorporate into your daily life to boost brain health:
- A brisk 15-30 minute walk
- 15 minutes of low to moderate impact weight lifting (2-5 pound hand weights)
- A 15-20 minute yoga or stretching session
- Clean your home, play with a pet, wash your car or tend to a garden for 30 minutes or more
- Harvard Health Publishing:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
- Exercise Interventions for Mental Health: A Quantitative and Qualitative Review:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
- U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:
- Harvard Medical Publishing:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: