How Exercise Keeps Your Brain Healthy

How Exercise Keeps Your Brain Healthy


You know it’s good for your body, but do you know it’s one of the most powerful means to protect your brain? That’s right, the same agent that can keep you trim, boost your energy, help you sleep better, and build your muscles – including your heart – can also safeguard your cognitive abilities and mood.

Regular exercise can protect and improve your cognitive skills, which includes thinking, learning, paying attention, reading, reasoning, solving problems, and recollection. Studies show that when older adults exercise regularly, their memory and thinking improves and their risk of dementia drops by a third. Other studies show that inactive people over age 45 are twice as likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia than people who habitually exercise.

Why does your brain need physical activity?

First, exercise promotes cardiovascular health and improves blood flow to the brain, which is how the brain gets oxygen and nutrients. Optimal blood flow to the brain is crucial because the brain has a high metabolic demand and uses a disproportionate amount of energy compared to its size. While it comprises only 2 percent of the body, the brain requires 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply! Oxygen fuels our nerve cells. Plus, the brain has little storage space for the nutrients it needs on demand; it must get them from blood flow.

Exercise also reduces inflammation in the brain and lowers stress hormone levels. Physical activity protects the nerve fibers that connect areas of the brain. It also promotes neuroplasticity, the ability of the nervous system to respond to stimuli, form new neural connections, and compensate for injury or disease. Exercise literally promotes the birth of new brain cells!

Additionally, moving your body lowers feelings of anxiety and depression by releasing beneficial neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine into the brain. You can lift your mood with just 10-30 minutes of exercise!

How much exercise do you need for brain health?

The best news is that you can protect your cognitive function and memory with 150 minutes of weekly physical activity! That’s five 30-minute workouts a week such as brisk walks, swimming, or biking. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you can also incorporate exercise into your daily life and get the benefits. (The CDC also recommends muscle-strengthening exercise two days a week.)

For example:

  • Park further away and walk to the store
  • March or do squats while watching TV
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Crank the music and dance at home
  • Walk your dog or join a friend
  • Do yard work or gardening
  • Join an exercise class
  • Do yoga or Tai Chi
If you’ve been feeling down, forgetful, or are having trouble concentrating, move your body. You’ll likely notice an immediate change in your feelings and focus. To protect your brain throughout your life, make movement a habit!