How Exercise Impacts Memory and Brain Health


Let me just sit here and write my 23974 blog post on the benefits of exercise. No, but really. The impact exercise has on our bodies is incredible, and the fact that it doesn’t have to be a specific type of workout or duration is even better. Movement is medicine – time and time again I will preach this because no matter if it is a 15 minute walk to your car or a 45 minute group fitness class, they are both going to benefit you in someway. Because no exercise goes unnoticed. Your body doesn’t know when you are “planning” to workout or when you are just on a walk with your dog. But let’s not forget that while doing good for our body, exercise also does good for our brain! One of the biggest organs in our bodies that controls literally everything we do. EVERYTHING. And just some moderate exercise could boost memory and stamina. HELLO JOB PROMOTION. But really, let’s chat about how exercise impacts memory and brain health!

Exercise and Brain Health

As we age, our brains (like other muscles in the body) start to atrophy, or deteriorate. This means that we slowly start to lose brain function – could be brain fog, loss of concentration, or even dementia. In fact, it is concluded that every 4 seconds someone is diagnosed with dementia, worldwide.  That is a big number, and the risk rate increases if it runs in the family…even more terrifying. But new studies are showing that we can actually change our brain function as we age, with exercise.

To get scientific on you, exercise promotes brain health by …”triggering the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.”

Let’s also make this clear for those looking for the quick fix. BDNF is NOT available in pill form. Meaning you cannot go buy it and take it. It has to be produced by the brain, and during exercise. So…no more skipping steps here.

brain exercise

Brain Health at All Ages

We know that exercise boosts chemical reactions in the brain to help with anxiety and depression, it fights against heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and now it can actually save your brain cells so you not only keep your memory for longer, but you can actually reduce brain fog and improve concentration in young adults!

Studies are showing that by just adding in 10 minutes of moderate exercise a day, kids are able to focus more on the task at hand rather than irrelevant information or surrounding distractions. This is a HUGE advancement for our younger populations because of the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, we are now going to be able to better their concentration with exercise. How many kids these days are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and medicated for it? A LOT. And how many kids eat junk food, sit on their electronics and never go outside? A LOT. But…this is a post for another day….back to brains.

There are also studies out there showing that aerobic exercise specifically can help improve brain function by increasing the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a part of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. So by increasing the size of this (much like increasing the heart muscle) we are able to actually retain more information and convey it more frequently on demand. So…that means I am no longer going to have long moments of “crap, what’s that called” or “it’s right on the tip of my tongue”? That’s what science is saying…

Types of Exercise for Brain Health

There are obviously different types of exercise out there, so which ones and how much do we need to actually get these brain health benefits?!

Aerobic activity (the kind that gets your heart pumping and the sweat dripping in your eyes) is beneficial for verbal memory and learning. So things like running, HIIT, Circuit Training, plyometrics, biking etc. Anything that is really going to make you work hard from a cardio standpoint!

exercise memory

Resistance training has been shown to decrease brain shrinkage. As I mentioned earlier, our brain starts to atrophy with age (it’s just what happens…people keep telling me aging sucks and not to do it, I think I’ll listen) but exercise can actually help us to build it back up! The release of BDNF during exercise is what helps maintain healthy brain cells and build new ones! Researchers are now deciding that the brain is actually more malleable than they thought. Years ago they assumed the brain was solid, like concrete, and couldn’t change. But they are now finding out that it has more neuroplasticity than they though, being moldable by things like diet and exercise!

Studies have not shown an exact sweet spot for how much exercise a week is beneficial for the brain, but we do know 1 thing – movement is…still medicine. A study done by scientists at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that “Over all, “a small dose of exercise” may be sufficient to improve many aspects of thinking and more sweat may not provide noticeably more cognitive benefit, Dr. Burns said” and “briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass,” stated again by Dr. Burns.

So there you have it, simple 20 minutes of exercise (like I always preach, and is what my accelerator program is all about) is even more beneficial for our bodies than we thought. Imagine just 20 minutes allowing you to live healthy, longer, and smarter! COUNT. ME. IN.

Science, man.


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Haley Rowe July 12, 2019