Live Better

6 ways exercise changes your brain

Dr Brockis explains how getting your blood pumping boosts your mood, focus and mental performance.

We all know how great exercise is for keeping our bodies fit, strong and healthy. It’s also important for helping our brains function at their best, making us happier, sharper and more focused.

For optimum mood, memory and cognitive performance, you should aim to complete 20-30 minutes of huffy-puffy exercise each day – enough to get your heart rate up and make you sweat a bit – as well as being physically active during the day.

Here are six ways exercise keeps your brain in shape:

1. Exercise feeds your brain

Exercise primes the brain for better performance not least because it increases cerebral blood flow – providing more oxygen and nutrients to our energy hungry neurons. In addition, exercise stimulates the releases of certain growth factors that enhance neuronal health and function.

2. Exercise improves your mood

Exercise and mood regulation is becoming rapidly more important in our sedentary lives. Too much sitting is associated with increased anxiety symptoms. Increasing our level of physical activity boosts our dopamine and serotonin levels, which elevates our mood and makes us feel happier. The added benefit is this improved mood can also motivate us to continue exercising.

3. Exercise helps you grow new brain cells

Exercise enhances neurogenesis, the process where by the brain produces around 700 or so new neurons every day.

4. Exercise boosts your focus

Prolonged sitting is a brain hazard because it reduces cerebral blood flow, especially to the prefrontal cortex, our executive suite for higher-level thinking. Choosing to stand more boosts attention and helps us to stay on task for longer. So look for opportunities to stand and move during your day – while on the phone, in a meeting or chatting with friends.

5. Exercise prevents age-related decline

Our brains shrink as we age, but exercise has been shown to stop or reduce this. One study from Edinburgh found that moderate exercise (walking) is better at reducing brain shrinkage than doing cross word puzzles or Sudoku.

6. Exercise reduces your risk of disease

Exercising helps to regulate blood sugar levels and the role of exercise in managing diabetes or pre-diabetes cannot be understated. Type two diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are all better managed by the inclusion of regular exercise into our daily lives and these are all recognised modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline.


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