Exercise for a Stronger Brain

The topic of mental health and how it contributes to our overall health is one that has fascinated me for some time and that I have been researching extensively for a couple of year.  We spend a lot of time thinking about how our nutrition, fitness  and lifestyle affect our body and physical health, but as you’ll see in today’s article by contributing expert Kent Burden, physical fitness can have a life changing impact on the health of our brain, which in turn significantly impacts our overall well being.


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We all know that to get a strong lean healthy body we need to exercise. But did you know that you can use exercise to create a stronger healthier mind? Our mental well being can be affected by a number of things like stress, body chemistry imbalances and self esteem issues. Exercise can be incredibly helpful with all of these issues and recent studies shows that regular exercise can also strengthen the brain in much the same way it strengthens the body.

How exercise trains the brain

Physical exercise actually helps protect against cognitive decline. Muscle activity actually stimulates synapse in the brain and strengthens those synapse which pumps up your brain power. Walking is especially good for your brain, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain.

Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head,” and helps you to think better. Movement and exercise increase breathing and heart rate so that more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and waste removal. Studies show that in response to exercise, cerebral blood vessels can grow, even in middle-aged sedentary animals.

While walking is good for the brain a study at The Salk Institute suggests that running may be even better. Ongoing animal studies at The Salk Institute show that running can boost brain cell survival in mice that have a neurodegenerative disease with properties similar to Alzheimer’s.

When these mice are sedentary, “it appears that most newly born brain cells die. We don’t understand that fully, but it probably has something to do with an inability to cope with oxidative stress,” said Carrolee Barlow, a Salk assistant professor and lead author of the study. “Running appears to ‘rescue’ many of these cells that would otherwise die. Furthermore, the miles logged correlated directly with the numbers of increased cells, she said. “It’s almost as if they were wearing pedometers, and those that ran more grew more cells.” This is from the Franklin Institute.

How exercise lowers stress

According to the Mayo Clinic stress can cause many physical and emotional reactions in the body they include but aren’t limited to:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

While constant stress in your life is bad news, the good news is doing almost any kind of exercise can help relieve it. Aerobics, weight training, running, walking yoga, tai chi, or Pilates will all do the trick. Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.

  • It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.
  • It’s meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything that you do.
  • It improves your mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.

How exercise improves self esteem

Simply doing exercise on a regular basis can help improve self-esteem. We all know that doing that workout makes you feel like you accomplished something. That same workout helps you lose a few pounds and your clothes fit a little better which in turn makes you feel a little better. All of that leads to higher self-esteem. Don’t take my word for it, in a study from the Medical College of Georgia included 207 overweight, typically sedentary children ages 7-11 randomly assigned to either continue their sedentary lifestyle or exercise for 20 or 40 minutes every day after school for an average of 13 weeks.

The 40-minute group sustained the most psychological benefit, according to research published online in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

The MCG researchers were the first to demonstrate this dose response benefit of exercise – meaning the more the better – on depressive symptoms and self-worth in these children. Benefits came despite the fact that the children’s weight did not change much over the three months. “Just by getting up and doing something aerobic, they were changing how they felt about themselves,” says the study’s first author, Dr. Karen Petty, postdoctoral fellow in psychology at MCG’s Georgia Prevention Institute.

But first you have to start an exercise program

But to get all these benefits first you have to start an exercise program and for some that can be the most difficult part. Do you join a gym, hire a personal trainer? What kind of exercise is right for you, and of course there’s the little issue of the expense.

Well have no fear because we have a simple, convenient and affordable solution just for you, the My Life Fitness online training program. With it you can bring some of the top trainers in America right into your living room. There are hundreds of workouts that range from 10 minute “quickie” programs to full-blown hardcore hour-long workouts.

Using a combination of streaming audio and video, this inexpensive alternative to the gym allows you to do your workout on your schedule and you can try it out at no charge for 2 weeks. If you like it it’s only $9.95 a month. For more information click here

We have a variety of programs to help people who have stress and anxiety. You can select a 90 Day Program that has been carefully constructed to reduce stress and anxiety symptoms. Our 90 Day Programs are custom-built for each user based on that user’s current level of fitness activity and severity of stress/anxiety.

And our 90 Day interactive calendar tells you exactly what to do each day for 90 days, including when to rest. You can also select 30 Day Programs that focus on specific activities and that likewise alleviate stress and anxiety.  Last, you can go into our entire workout inventory and grab a single Daily Program from any of these exercise categories that you feel will help your condition. Whether you select a 90 Day Program, a 30 Day Program or a Daily Workout, you can feel confident that your exercise choice will make a real difference in your mood and attitude…at work and at home.

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About Kent:

KentHeadshotKent Burden is a certified personal trainer, master wellness coach and has more than 18 group fitness certifications. He is an award winning author and is the creator of the “Workout at Work” e-book series. The first two books in the series are “Workout at Work: 25 Upper Body Strength Exercises with Resistance Bands to do at Your Desk,” and “Workout at Work: 25 Lower Body Strength Exercises to do at Your Desk.” Other recent books include “Exercise Sucks! The Secret to Losing Weight Without Really Trying” and “Is Your Chair Killing You?” All of Kent’s books are available at www.amazon.com


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Have you ever thought about exercising for your brain before? What is your favorite way to keep your brain strong and healthy?


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  1. The older I get the more unfocused I get. But when I walk I get more energy, a clearer mind, and I’m able to focus on the task at hand better.

  2. I don’t doubt that exercise helps over all. Getting started is my problem. I will walk, I’m not a runner. Often, when you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is be physically active. Even though it has been proven to help.

    • You are so right Lisa, doing what will make us fell better is often the hardest when we lack motivation and energy. Walking is a great way to get your daily exercise or if you feel up to it you could try one of my BURST workouts. Those are super fun and fast so you can squeeze them into even the busiest of schedule!

  3. Sue Harding says:

    My brain can use all the help it can get especially after having 2 strokes and lots of mental health issues.

    • Wow Sue, I so sorry you’ve had so many struggles. I strongly encourage you to find was to make exercise a part of your daily routine. I suspect you’ll feel much better. All the best to you. Please let me know if I can support you in any way.

  4. This is so good to know! I exercise every day!!

  5. I’ve never thought to connect it with the brain, but stress and health, yes. That’s just another reason I need to get back into the groove.

    • I know I function 100 times better when I get my daily dose of exercise Liz! And my family loves it too since I tend to be in a far better mood and so much more patient! All the best getting back to your healthy routine. I’m happy to be your accountability partner if you need one 🙂

  6. Hina momin says:

    Perfect exercise i exercise every day 🙂

  7. I do yoga once a week.

  8. I need to start an exercise routine! sigh! I like to do memory type games with the kids, that helps my brain too 🙂

  9. I know I need to start exercising more! I was doing so well at it for a while but fell of the wagon – I know I definitely feel better when I exercise!

    • It’s a lot easier to stay on track than to start up again Jeanette, but if you connect to how you felt when you were in a routine, you’ll get there sooner than you think. Grab a friend who’s also trying to get into a routine and support each other. You’ll have a lot more fun and can celebrate your accomplishments together.

  10. I agree exercise improves mental health, thank you for sharing your article with us.

  11. this is a really great and informative post i need to do this

  12. Hina momin says:

    This is good exercise perfect

  13. It’s amazing all the benefits that exercise can give us. I know I feel so much better when I exercise!

  14. I love this post. i learned a lot.

  15. Cathy Philipps says:

    Great article! Its a good reminder why I keep exercising!

  16. I can believe that working out actually does help your mind, I know when I was working out I felt so much better inside, which makes my mind say on the outside WOW! I think I just need to find that again…

    • I love to workout first thing in the morning Dorothy because I am so much more focused and productive with the rest of my day! I also have more patience and can handle other stresses with a lot more grace which is a benefit my family greatly appreciates 🙂

  17. Our teen has become a little stress queen but doesn’t feel that exercise will help decrease her anxiety or stress because you know, teens know it ALL! LOL. I’m going to share this article with her!

  18. Ronald G says:

    I really beleive your study and recommendations…because while I was walking my freind’s dog everyday..I seemed to have more energy and feel better later…when I stopped over the winter (I live a very sedentary life as a single 63 year old bachelor) find myself more despondant and slightly depressed..but chocked it up to the weather) I even experienced little lapses of memory.

    • Thanks for sharing with us Ronald. Those little lapses in memory must have been scary! I do hope you can find the motivation to get moving every day, even if just for a short walk. All the best to you!!

  19. Wow… the benefits… I have to start to exercises >.<

  20. John Herman says:

    thanks for the info!

  21. Chiquita says:

    Great article Valerie!

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