Why Exercise Matters to Your Brain

By Fiona Milne, Physiotherapist

10th August 2017

Exercise for a healthier brain

In an article I read recently by a PhD psychologist and neuroscientist, Mylea Charvat, she reveals several different ways in which exercise improves not only your physical health but also your brain health.

Exercise has been shown in recent research to have some far reaching effects on brain function. The current guidelines for exercise for ages 6 and above is a minimum total of 2 1/2 hours / week or and hour a day for children.(1)

Exercise can boost brain function and protect against dementia. Recent research studies have shown moderate intensity exercise promotes brain function in the following ways:

  • Healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in the brain, which is a sign of healthy brain activity
  • Aerobic exercise will raise your heart rate and boost blood flow to the brain. This leads to neurogenesis – or the production of neurons – in certain parts of your brain that control memory and thinking(2)
  • In aerobic exercise, increased respiratory rate results in increased oxygen delivered to the brain
  • It has been found that exercise promotes the production of neurotrophins, leading to greater brain plasticity and therefore – better memory and learning. As well as neurotrophins, exercise drives an increase of neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, which boost information processing.(3)
  • Being active in early and middle age has even been shown to boost cognitive tests decades later and have a positive effect across the life span.(4)
  • Physical activity serves as a protective factor against Alzheimer’s disease, because exercise increases brain volume through neurogenesis, and it is thought that this cognitive reserve helps buffer against the effects of dementia(7).
  • A multi-component routine focusing on balance, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is better than focusing on just one type of exercise.(7)
  • There are so many health benefits – both physical and mental, to exercise.


Excerpt quoted from “Why Exercise Matters to your Brain”, Mylea Charvat on her LinkedIn account.

  1. Physical Guidelines
  2. “Brains and Brawn: Does weight lifting make you smarter?” NY Times
  3. “Exercise is brain food” Developmental neurorehabilitation (2008)
  4. “How Does Exercise Benefit Cognition?” Scientific American
  5. “A for Effort” NY Times
  6. “Effects of weight loss, exercise, or both on cognition in obese older adults” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014)
  7. “Exercise, cognitive function, and aging” Advances in Physiology Education (2015)


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