Exercise: What can it do for your brain?

Exercising regularly has a lot of great physical benefits for the body. It helps to reduce our risk of various chronic diseases whilst making us more fit and healthy at the same time. However, have you ever thought of exercising to increase your brain function? Next time you skip your workout because you have too much work or exams coming up, think again. It may just help you achieve these tasks more efficiently. Similarly, in schools some physical education classes have been cut to replace with more academic classes to improve results. However, it has been researched that increasing physical activity to replace academic classes has no detriment on academic performance and may improve cognitive brain function and concentration. The most beneficial type of exercise is aerobic exercise which has shown to have the largest positive effect on the brain.

Here is how physical activity and exercise affects the brain:

  • It improves learning and task acquisition by the release of key chemicals involved in making new neural pathways.
  • Exercise increases memory and learning processes through upregulation of the molecule, brain – derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Through exercise this molecule directly affects the hippocampus (memory centre) of the brain.
  • MRI tests have shown higher levels of fitness relate to larger volumes of grey matter and white matter. Grey matter is responsible for sensory function such as speech, hearing and memory as well as muscular control. White matter is responsible for connecting electrical signals to the body to enhance proper functioning. A reduction in white matter is linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, with exercise shown to delay and reduce the effects of memory deterioration in Alzheimer’s sufferers.
  • Exercise increases the brains cognitive ability. This allows you to perform activities such as scheduling and planning, multi-tasking and increasing short term memory recall.

If you would like to see how exercise can help you perform better in all aspects of life contact our team at Absolute Balance for more information.


Taylor Downes (Exercise Physiologist)


Kramer, A. F., Hillman, C. H., & Erickson, K. I. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(1), 58-65. doi:10.1038/nrn2298