Research and our understanding on the effects of exercise on the brain and cognitive performance is well documented and has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade. There are many ways exercise has an effect and actually changes the brain structure.

As our diagnostic technology improves we can gain a better understanding of what actually happens in the brain, this leads to better understanding of neuroplasticity, brain chemistry, energy usage and blood flow in the brain.


For some time we have known regular exercise, improves brain function, or brain fitness if you want, some of the benefits of exercise improving executive functions like memory, multitasking and impulse control. Reduces or helps with the treatment of depression, delays dementia and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the questions raised through the research in humans are; does exercise lead to structural changes? Which parts of the brain is affected? Are the changes permanent or transient?

What have researches come up with so far?

Here is a couple of ways exercise has an effect on the brain…

In a study by researchers at the University of Maryland they have shown that there is a definite increase in blood flow to the brain and regular exercise has a neurotrophic (a growth in neural tissue) effect in the hippocampus (the Center of emotions, memory and autonomic nervous system).

Interestingly enough they found that 10 days after sensation of exercise the growth and blood supply to the brain decreased. The conclusion of this is if you stop physical exercise you do not maintain the positive improvements and cognitive functions can also be negatively affected, so keep training!

brain during exercise_2

In another study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it showed that brain metabolism and the release of certain neurotransmitters of regular exercisers were significantly increased compared to sedentary subjects.

They looked specifically at the effects of the the neurotransmitter GABA and glutamate levels which were increased in regular exercisers, this opens the possibility of using physical activity as a therapeutic modality for certain conditions like anxiety.

We have seen improvements in the brain metabolism and a positive effect on neurotransmitters that promote a state of wellness. Regular training and especially learning new movements, from learning a new sport, a new dance move or a new exercise in the gym improves neuroplacticity in the region of the brain concerned with motor control. Long term befits could be protection against dementia and lessening the risk of Parkinson’s.

What can we take away from this, our brain health and metabolism is possibly directly linked to the physical activity we undertake on a regular basis.

The effects of regular exercise results in increasing of neurotransmitters that promote health and well being, increase in blood flow to the brain, the brain forming more connections between neurones that is directly involved in decision making, memory and impulse control.

There is also a further increase in brain density in the motor control area of the brain.

Finally there is a use it or lose it principle, Keep moving to keep the brain active and healthy!


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Alfonso J. Alfini, Lauren R. Weiss, Brooks P. Leitner, Theresa J. Smith, James M. Hagberg, J. Carson Smith. Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2016; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00184

R. J. Maddock, G. A. Casazza, D. H. Fernandez, M. I. Maddock. Acute Modulation of Cortical Glutamate and GABA Content by Physical Activity. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (8): 2449 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3455-15.2016

M. W. Voss, L. S. Nagamatsu, T. Liu-Ambrose, A. F. Kramer. Exercise, Brain, and Cognition Across the Lifespan. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011; DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00210.2011

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