Find brain-training exercises for all levels on BrainHQ. Learn more about the program, the exercises, and its benefits here.
The workout motivation you’ve been looking for
You already know that exercise is good for your body. But here’s another great reason to get moving: It keeps your brain sharp.
Exercise: It’s a one-size-fits-all prescription for your health. It’s good for your heart, it strengthens your lungs, it keeps your bones and muscles strong, and it helps prevent falls. No matter the problem, moving more can be part of the solution.
Here’s one more big benefit of exercise: It boosts your brain power. When you lace up your sneakers and head to the gym — or just take a walk around the block — you’re keeping your mind sharp. And you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete or spend your weekends running marathons to get the benefits.
So how do you stay motivated to move? Below, find three great reasons, plus the perfect body-brain workouts to choose.
Body-brain motivator #1: A little exercise goes a long way
In one study, healthy young adults took part in 10 minutes of mild exercise, then received MRIs of their brains. (That’s a type of medical imaging test that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to take detailed pictures of your tissues and organs, including the brain.) Researchers found they had better connections between the areas of their brain linked to memory processing.
And exercise isn’t just good if you’re young. In a 2022 study, people ranging in age from 30 to 94 wore a device that measured their activity levels for seven days. Then they underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volume. The results? The more active they were, the larger their brains were, especially in the region considered to be the control center for memory. And the best results were found in people over age 70.
That’s important, the researchers found, because even small efforts like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can counteract age-related loss of brain matter and help prevent neurological diseases like dementia.
Body-brain motivator #2: Working out builds brain cells
Exercise is powerful medicine. It not only improves your brain function, but it also acts as a first-aid kit for damaged brain cells.
Why does exercise play such a big role in brain health? It affects the brain on multiple fronts, increasing your heart rate and pumping more oxygen to your brain. It also helps your body release hormones that provide a nourishing environment for the growth of new brain cells.
Exercise can even affect your genes. One gene, for instance, makes a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. It works in the tiny connections between your nerve cells (neurons). This helps you remember things that happened in the past and plays a part in learning new things. Where does exercise come in? You guessed it. It increases your levels of BDNF, making your memory and your thinking sharper.
Body-brain motivator #3: Moving is good for your mood
Movement is connected to your mental health too. If you’ve ever gone for a quick run or swum some laps when you were down in the dumps, you know about the mood-lifting power of exercise.
For one thing, exercise takes your mind off your worries. It also increases your brain’s plasticity — its ability to grow and change to meet your needs — by stimulating the growth of new cells in many important areas of your brain. Studies have found that exercise may be just as effective as medication in treating mental health conditions like depression.
So remember: If it’s good for your heart — or any other part of your body — it’s good for your brain too. Just get moving.
Bonus motivation: Tips for choosing the right physical exercise for brain health
So moving is good for your body, soul, and brain — that much you know. But how do you get the right brain-boosting workout in the first place? Here are five simple things to consider.
- Be an early riser. Exercising in the morning before work or other daily activities spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day. It also helps you retain new information and react better to difficult situations.
- Work the circuit. Heading to the gym solo? Try a circuit workout, which both quickly spikes your heart rate and constantly redirects your attention. Doing new things is good for your brain!
- Dance, dance, dance. Activities like dancing boost coordination and give you a cardio workout. Take an online class or just blast your favorite tunes and dance around the living room. Or find an in-person one to do — with your favorite brain-training partner. You’ll get all the benefits of exercise without any drudgery.
- Be an active TV watcher. Find easy ways to sit less and move more. Do squats, march in place, or ride the stationary bike while watching the news or your favorite streaming show.
- Walk the dog. Dogs are great for your mental health, but they can also help you maintain an active lifestyle. No dog? No worries. Borrow a friend’s pup for a quick walk around the neighborhood — or just walk yourself.
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Mild exercise study: PNAS
Measuring activity study: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Exercise and genes study: PLOS One
Exercise and depression study: British Journal of Sports Medicine