Here’s a fairly intuitive statement: exercising your body is good for your cognitive function.

But did you have any idea how true that statement actually is?

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Whether you’re a student, boardroom exec, or someone looking to get the most out of their brain power, check out these five reasons why your gym membership is one of the best things you’ve done for your brain lately.

5 Ways That Exercise Boosts Your Cognitive Function

cognitive function

1. Alleviates stress.

Stressed out about that upcoming exam? Resist the urge to pound the caffeine and pull an all-nighter. You may want to pound the pavement and do some pull-ups, instead!

Research shows mental stress can impair learning and memory. Fortunately, exercise is an excellent stress buster.

For one thing, exercise triggers the release of feel-good hormones like endorphins, which can relax you and increase your sense of positivity. Regular exercise also helps you sleep better by promoting fatigue and by facilitating sleep-inducing changes in body temperature.

Sure, we can think of plenty of other ways to “reduce” stress—like binge-eating Mac n’ Cheese or binge-watching Netflix…or maybe both at the same time. But many of these strategies aren’t ideal for your health, and often subject you to even more stressful consequences.

So, think of exercise as a go-to stress reliever, no matter how much you have piled on your plate.


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2. Stimulates new growth of neurons and blood vessels.

Exercise places an increased demand for oxygen in your body, which triggers the growth of new blood vessels and keeps tissues healthy. Exercise also triggers the production of special chemicals in the brain including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)—called the “Miracle-Gro” of brain cells. This allows us to grow new neurons and neural connections, which is uber-good for boosting cognitive function.

3. Enhances problem solving, memory, focus, and attention.

Remember how exercise can reduce stress by helping you sleep better? Turns out that getting a better night’s sleep thanks to exercise can also improve your memory. This is because sleep is a critical element to consolidating new memories and learning new information. If we’re not sleeping well or not enough, then we have a harder time organizing, storing, and recalling info in our heads.

Given its ability to enhance sleep (among other effects), exercise also improves cognitive functions including judgment, attention, and problem-solving.

4. Reduces or manages symptoms of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.

More and more research is showing just how beneficial physical activity can be for controlling and alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mood disorders, many of which pop up during your college years.

5. Prevents or decreases age-related atrophy.

Not only is exercise good for your brain now, but it’s good for your brain in the future, too! Research shows that regular physical activity can prevent cerebral atrophy (brain-wasting) commonly related to aging, and may protect against memory loss. So lace up your sneakers to maximize your brain health throughout every stage of life.

Which type of exercise is best? The real point is to find a selection of physical activities you enjoy doing and do them most days of the week. This includes aerobic exercise, strength training, and lower intensity exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, and hiking. Some research indicates that doing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (at 65 to 75 percent of your maximal heart rate) at least 2 to 3 times per week is enough to elicit significant improvements in cognitive function.

Looking to get smarter and stronger? Stop by and check out the many fitness programs we offer.

Sara M

Author Sara M

Sara M. is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and freelance writer living and working near Boston, MA. As a former CrossFit gym owner and current fitness lover, Sara has a lot of personal and professional experience inside and outside the gym. She loves to write about various topics related to health, wellness, nutrition, human behavior, and self-mastery.

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