The hidden benefits of exercise. Are you getting them all?

Effects of exercise on your brain.

There are bountiful reasons to get your heart pumping. Firstly, your brain and future self will really thank you for your efforts. Exercise increases many important brain chemicals. They improve your mood, reduce pain, enhance general cognition, and repair and grow your brain cells. Below, we’ll discuss how this all happens and what exercises will work best for you..

First, let's peak under the hood:

Anything that’s good for your heart is great for gray matter.


Oxygen and glucose (sugar) are both needed as fuel for your body. Any exercises will increase blow flow to the brain, but less strenuous ones, like walking, will lead to more oxygen and glucose getting to your brain, since less of it will be required by your muscles1. Ever come up with a realy good idea while on a walk? No? Well, take a walk, and you might!


You’ve probably heard of runner’s high, but endorphins (a neuropeptide) are what cause it. Fun fact: the word endorphin is a contraction of endogenous morphine. That means less discomfort, since endorphins main function is o block pain signals, reduce stress, combat depression, and even cause euphoria2,3.

Chemical messengers (neurotransmitters):

Your body wants you to exercise so it rewards you with dopamine, a feel-good chemical, when you do4. But beyond its natural anti-depressant effects, dopamine also plays a major role in executive functions (including attention, problem-solving, memory, and self-control)5, and motivation, making you happily productive.

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise (e.g. biking and running), raises levels of serotonin6, which also boosts your mood, improves appetite and sleep, and reduces anxiety, all of which lead to improved cognition7. Effects of serotonin and dopamine show a decline in output, so it’s important to combat this with light routine physical activity to stave off things like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease8.

It’s not just important to feel good, we’ve got to get stuff done. Exercise increase noradrenaline8, whose main function is to rally the brain and body for action. More specifically, it increases arousal and attention and enhances both the formation and retrieval of memories, so we can actually remember what we’ve achieved.

Exercise and Brain Health:

It’s nice to have a well-oiled machine, but how do we keep it running properly for as long as possible? For the brain, that means producing BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), increased through exercise. It not only helps repair existing neurons, but stimulates the growth of new ones (neurogenesis) and their connections (synapses), which is fundamental to learning and memory10.

Now let’s turn this into a great habit!

You already have plenty of reasons for exercising: losing weight, lowering blood pressure or avoiding heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, but a healthy brain will give you that competitive edge! The key to all this is turning exercise into a habit. Many people start, but when they don’t see quick changes in lost weight or increased muscle definition, they quit. We hope that if you keep in mind all the brain benefits that exercise offers, it will keep you going. One trick is to document your exercise efforts, which will help you stick to your goals, and make improvements. Soon enough you’ll notice sustained improvements in your strength, body aesthetics, general mood, energy, and overall cognitive sharpness. Just don’t get addicted. Oh well…go ahead; get hooked!



  1. Kemppainen, J., Aalto, S., Fujimoto, T., Kalliokoski, K. K., Långsjö, J., Oikonen, V., Rinne, J., Nuutila, P. and Knuuti, J. (2005), High intensity exercise decreases global brain glucose uptake in humans. The Journal of Physiology, 568: 323–332.

  2. Goldfarb, A.H. & Jamurtas, A.Z. β-Endorphin Response to Exercise (1997), Sports Medicine 24: 8.

  3. Schwarz, L. & Kindermann, W. (1992), Changes in β-Endorphin Levels in Response to Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise. Sports Medicine 13: 25.

  4. Gene-Jack, Wang; Volkow, Nora D; Fowler, Joanna S; Franceschi, Dinko; et al. PET studies of the effects of aerobic exercise on human striatal dopamine release. (2000), The Journal of Nuclear Medicine; Vol. 41, Iss. 8, 1352-6.

  5. Sandra E Leh, Michael Petrides and Antonio P Strafella. (2010), The Neural Circuitry of Executive Functions in Healthy Subjects and Parkinson's Disease. Neuropsychopharmacology 35, 70–85

  6. Yuan TF, Paes F, Arias-Carrión O, Ferreira Rocha NB, de Sá Filho AS, and Machado S. (2015), Neural Mechanisms of Exercise: Anti-Depression, Neurogenesis, and Serotonin Signaling. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets, 14(10):1307-11.

  7. Pierre Blier and Mostafa El Mansari, (2013) Serotonin and beyond: therapeutics for major depression. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 368(1615): 20120536.

  8. Walter Pirker, S. Asenbaum, Martin Hauk et. al. (2000), Imaging Serotonin and Dopamine Transporters with 123I-β-CIT SPECT: Binding Kinetics and Effects of Normal Aging. J Nucl Med. 41(1):36-44.