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Exercise and the Brain

It’s no secret staying active provides immense physical benefit. Exercise checks our metabolism, keeps joint and ligament attachments supple, builds strong muscles, and generally aids body maintenance. However, it also plays a central role in helping develop our main powerhouse; the brain. In children and adults alike, exercise has been named crucial to the brain’s construction, continued development, and necessary repair; essentially, it is key to a healthy and happy brain. Read on for scientific specifics as well as ways in which you can incorporate exercise into a hectic schedule.

Activity is especially important for youngsters; it is during our early and formative years that we are most susceptible to habit creation and bodily development. During childhood, our brains are designed and grounded; exercise implemented early will directly mold this design. Research shows exercise increases the amount of blood released to the brain. This blood carries oxygen and glucose, both of which are necessary for acuity and mental alertness. This increased blood flow alone provides children the means to more easily learn. In fact, studies show that children with as little as 15 minutes of daily recess presented better behavior and attention spans than peers without. Further, 30 minutes of recess has been linked to improved standardized test scores and overall higher grades; breaks allow the brain to regroup and better recall information (Blake). Additionally, exercise “builds new…cells in a brain region called [the] dentate gyrus, which is linked with memory and memory loss;” further brain cells in this area also impact children’s ability to learn necessary material (Raise Smart Kid, 2015).

However, the brain benefits of exercise are not just limited to the youth! Exercise is desirable in adulthood, as well. You’ve probably heard of the ‘runner’s high’ associated with exercise; various studies show that activity boosts serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Both help diminish depression and anxiety, as well as help the body respond to stress. Essentially, exercise gives us a platform to practice ‘anxiety management’ and “streamlines the communication between the systems involved in stress response…the less active we become, the more challenged we are in dealing with stress” (Domonell, 2016).

Studies have cited two responses to exercise, acute and chronic. Acute responses, like the aforementioned ‘runner’s high, are immediately felt while chronic responses build up over time. Research conducted at the University of British Columbia suggests exercise swells the size of the hippocampus, “the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning” (Godman, 2014). This is especially important as we age and seek to keep our memory and cerebral function’s integrity (as well as evade dementia’s potential threat). Additionally, exercise “reduce[s] insulin resistance, reduce[s] inflammation, and stimulate[s] the release of growth factors- chemicals…that affect…the growth of new blood vessels in the brain” (Godman, 2014). Hippocampus enlargement and insulin reduction are both instances of chronic response; increased respiratory capacity and improved body composition are also examples of chronic response (Momarock, 2013).

Unfortunately, we don’t all have ample daily time to work-out. Busy careers, young children, challenging university courses, and other obligations might command our full attention. If this is the case for you, you’re absolutely not alone! So, what are some ways we might achieve that hallowed exercise? Here are some TOPPSTips:

  • Take the stairs!This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy and simple to incorporate!Rather than wait for an elevator, head to the stairs.You might even more quickly reach your destination this way!

  • Park far from your destination, whether it be the grocery store, mall, or school.Those extra yards add up!

  • Acquire a standing desk for work!These desks prop up your work station and allow for continued productivity.

  • Bring lunch to work and workout during your break!Does your workplace have an exercise facility?Is there a close local gym?If so, use that hour break to work up a sweat!

Exercise might not be part of your workplace culture and it’s understandable to fall into the routine of our peers. However, it only takes one person to stimulate change! By personally starting a renewed fitness commitment, you might also encourage coworkers, fellow parents, and schoolmates to follow suite!

Ultimately, most of us recognize exercise is extremely important for physical well-being. However, it is just as essential for our brain’s health, development, and upkeep. We cannot ignore the powerful influence that activity has on memory function and mental integrity and, considering this influence, it is imperative we seek to fold fitness into our schedules (at a level that best suits you and your schedule). Your brain will thank you!


Blake, Chris. The Effect of Recess on Academics. Retrieved on May 29, 2017, from

Domonell, Kristen. (January 13, 2016). Why endorphins (and exercise) make you happy. Retrieved on May 29, 2017, from

Godman, Heidi. (April 9, 2014). Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Retrieved on May 29, 2017, from

Momarock. (January 18, 2013). Acute Vs. Chronic Response to Exercise- And Other Tidbits. Retrieved on May 29, 2017, from

Raise Smart Kid. (2015). The Benefits of Exercise on Your Kid’s Brain. Retrieved on May 29, 2017, from

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