7 Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain

We all know that exercise is good for us—how it strengthens our heart muscles, lungs and helps us prevent diseases like diabetes.

That’s why so many of us like to make New Year’s resolutions to move more, knowing it will make us healthier and live longer.

But many people aren’t aware of the other important benefits of exercise—how it can help us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage.

Here are 7 surprising ways exercise changes your brain —and how you can harness these benefits yourself.

 1) Increases the functional activity of the temporal lobe

functional activity of the temporal lobe

Exercise increases the functional activity of the temporal lobe, which is responsible for storing sensory memories.

Exercise can also boost memory and thinking indirectly by improving your mood and sleep patterns. 

Studies have also suggested that the brain parts that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.

Regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year can increase the volume of selected brain regions.

2) Improves your learning and mental performance.

 learning and mental performance.

Exercise improves learning and mental performance.

Physical fitness is linked with better brain functioning in young adults.

Experts have long understood that exercise can improve people’s cognitive performance, including executive functioning, attention and memory, and brain structure.

In older adults especially, physical activity increases the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory, learning, and emotion. 

So improving your physical activity could improve your cognitive ability, including your memory and problem-solving skills.

3) Helps prevent and treat dementia, Alzheimer’s, and brain aging.

dementia, Alzheimer’s, and brain aging.

Helps prevent and treat dementia, Alzheimer’s, and brain aging.

Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent.

What’s more, exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems.

Exercise protects against Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by stimulating the brain’s ability to maintain old connections and make new ones.

4) Reduces sensitivity to stress, depression, and anxiety. 

stress, depression, and anxiety.

Reduces sensitivity to stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Exercise can play an important role in mental well-being and even relieve symptoms of mental health conditions like stress, depression, and anxiety.

It decreases sensitivity to the body’s reaction to anxiety.

Light, moderate, and vigorous exercise have been shown to reduce the severity of depression. 

Increased physical activity has been found to enhance mood, improve energy levels and promote quality sleep.

5) Encourages the pituitary gland to release endorphins.

Exercise Encourages the pituitary gland to release endorphins

It decreases stress hormones. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol.

It also increases endorphins—your body’s “feel-good” chemicals—giving your mood a natural boost.

Everyone should exercise for physical and mental well-being. But being active is particularly important for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Exercise is an important way to slow the disease and control its symptoms; it helps you maintain your ability to do everyday activities and protect your brain cells.

People who start earlier in the Parkinson’s disease process have better outcomes and overall well-being.

7) Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels increases, which maintains and regenerates adult nerve cells.

Exercise is not only good for our physical health, but it benefits our mental health and abilities too.

Physical exercise can affect how much of certain proteins are made in the brain.

In particular, the levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF for short) increase after exercise.

BDNF has already been shown to enhance mental abilities at the same time as acting against anxiety and depression in mice and might act similarly in humans.