5 Ways How Exercise Improves Brain Functions

Why exercise is important not only for your body, but also for your brain


There is seen a potential decline in Life Expectancy in the U.S. in the 21st Century that due to a sedentary lifestyle, the next generations of people will live less and worse. And it’s not just about physical health: the lack of movement negatively affects the functioning of the brain. However, there is a chance to change everything with the help of aerobic exercise, running, jumping, cycling, and swimming. They contribute to the influence of physical fitness and exercise upon cognitive functioning: a meta-analysis improves cognitive functions and protects against age-related diseases associated with their decline. Understanding what exactly happens in our head during sports.

"5 Ways How Exercise Improves Brain Functions"
5 Ways How Exercise Improves Brain Functions


1. Brain activity increases

Nerve cells communicate with each other chemically and electrically. Sometimes electrical impulses can excite entire networks of neurons at the same time – this is how brain waves are formed. They differ in frequency of oscillation and are associated with our emotional state and type of mental activity.



Low-frequency waves occur when we do something on the machine: brush our teeth, ride in transport or just sleep. High-frequency waves, or beta waves, appear when we are involved in active mental activity. They are associated with attention, memory, and information processing.



Researchers have found that aerobic exercise shifts in the amplitude and frequency of brain waves. More beta waves occur, meaning that the person is more focused and focused at that moment.

It turns out that the exercises bring you into a state of high alert: the more active you are, the more attentive and quick-witted you become. Therefore, training is the best time for learning, making decisions, and generating ideas.


2. The brain becomes more receptive to information

This fact was verified by studying the effect of aerobic exercise on the activity of the visual cortex of the brain. It receives and processes information about the environment, allowing you to focus on its most significant characteristics – for example, those that may indicate the presence of danger – and discard everything less important and distracting.


Research proved Acute Exercise Modulates Feature-selective Responses in Human Cortexthtat cycling enhances this brain’s ability to filter and select.

Also, after training, the subjects underwent several cognitive tests. For example, scientists have measured the flicker fusion frequency, which is the rate at which light flickers, at which it begins to look like a constant continuous emission. It turned out that the visual perception of a person really improves and after exercise, he is able to recognize more frequent flickering.


This means that sport helps us to be more attentive to details and not lose focus. An active person focuses better on a task without being distracted by background noise, but at the same time, he can notice problems and respond to them faster.


3. The balance of brain functions is maintained

"5 Ways How Exercise Improves Brain Functions"
5 Ways How Exercise Improves Brain Functions

During exercise, the brain absorbs glucose or other carbohydrates. Scientists discovered it uses some of this “fuel” to create neurotransmitters, or neurotransmitters, chemicals that allow the transmission of impulses in the nervous system.

In this way, the brain replenishes the reserves that it would need to function properly in an emergency situation – in the event of a long period of hunting, fleeing from danger, or war.

During exercise, levels of glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) increase. These are two of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain that it needs to function optimally. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, its deficiency is accompanied by lethargy, absent-mindedness, and apathy. Lack of GABA, on the contrary, leads to anxiety, headaches, and insomnia. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for composure, attention, and calmness.


In addition, during physical activity, the number of neurotransmitters increases in those areas of the brain where they are usually few in people with depression. This means that exercise helps fight depression and look at life more positively.


4. The brain gets younger

In the brain of a person involved in sports, there are several processes that delay its aging.

Acute exercise’s impact on cognitive performance, levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and the creation of molecules that support the growth of new neurons and prolong the survival of existing ones.


The adult brain’s vascular remodeling and increased blood vessel density, through which nutrients are given to developing cells, depend on insulin-like growth factors. Blood vessels are strong and healthy in active people.


MR angiography, which normally produces younger-looking brains, can indicate the effect of exercise on the cerebral vasculature of healthy senior persons.

These structural alterations often take a few weeks. However, they result in long-lasting improvements in the parts of the brain connected to cognitive problem-solving. For instance, in the hippocampus, aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis, the process through which neurons create. Memory is controlled by the hippocampus.


The volume of grey matter in regions of the brain linked to general intelligence and the most crucial function of the brain, the executive, increases in older athletes as exercise has a positive impact on the cerebral vasculature of healthy elderly adults, as shown by MR angiography. Additionally, the basal ganglia, which are in charge of coordination, contain more coherent white matter in active adults.


This indicates that engaging in physical activity lowers the chance of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other memory and thinking impairments that may occur with brain aging. Participate in athletics if you wish to maintain mental clarity as you age.


5. New connections appear between neurons


Over time, exercise can not only increase the number of neurons in the brain but also change the way they interact. According to one of the research, the cross-country athletes had stronger connections between brain regions involved in memory, attention, decision making, multitasking, and sensory information processing. In the same areas, with an inactive lifestyle, neural connections are usually severely damaged with age.


The connections between neurons that are activated when a person runs – choose a route, tries not to stumble, and keep pace – are gradually strengthened. They remain strong even at rest. In addition, scientists have found that runners have weakened connections in the area of ​​​​the brain associated with loss of attention, which means that concentration skills increase.


It turns out that sports have a long-term positive effect: you are not only able to solve mental problems better immediately after training but become smarter in principle. And if you are active enough, over the years this ability only improves.


Sport is not a magic pill that will make you smarter. But it will help the brain become healthier and more active, and you – be more attentive, reasonable, and happier.

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