The Big Ways Exercise Impacts Brain Function


Exercise is good for you. Period. That is certainly no secret. It helps you build strong muscles. It promotes cardiovascular health. It helps you manage stress. And it reduces your risk for tons of illnesses and diseases. But did you know that exercise also has a positive impact on brain function? Read on to learn how!


According to research, exercise supports learning ability, alertness, and mental sharpness. When we exercise, the production of BDNF increases in the brain, leading to all of these benefits, and aiding in memory. BDNF stands for brain derived neurotrophic factor, and is a protein that produces the aforementioned benefits.


More research has found that exercise can alleviate or lessen the extent to which Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder manifests in children and adolescents. It has to do with BDNF again. BDNF plays a critical role in brain growth and development. In a young brain, there is a faster turnover of cells, meaning new growth and change are easier than in an older, more established brain.

Solidifying New Concepts

You have probably heard about muscle memory before. If you do something enough, eventually your brain becomes familiar with it and recognizes the action. Similarly, exercise encourages the brain to embrace new concepts that go beyond the physical. A study of adult men showed that those who exercised were better able to learn and remember a complex pattern than those who did not exercise.

Solving Problems

When we exercise, new neurons are generated in the brain. When we encounter new problems, those same neurons tend to “light up” or kick in to gear in order to help us find a solution or weave through an unfamiliar concept/issue. A study involving mice presented strong supporting evidence to back this idea.


Exercise has long been touted as one of the best remedies for depressive thoughts and feelings. And rightfully so. Exercise causes the pituitary gland in the brain to release endorphins, the hormones that give you that feel-good “high” after a workout.  But according to medical reports, those effects are not as short-lived as you would think. Endorphins seem to play a role in long term alleviation of depression symptoms and experiences.

Stress Relief

Our bodies are designed to move. When we quench that thirst, so to speak, we feel better. It is pretty simple, and most of us can testify to that fact. But exercise has long term stress relieving benefits as well. While it does cause an increase in blood cortisol levels (cortisol is known as the “stress hormone”), it also raises the body’s tolerance of cortisol. So in the end, stressful situations do not have such a big physical impact.


Always consult your physician or other health care professional before seeking treatment or taking related advice herein.

Story Credit: Exercise Does A Brain Good (bottom slideshow) by Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Brad Aaron