• Rita Hitching

Brain Benefits of Exercise

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

Are your parents constantly nagging you to go outside? Go play catch? Go for a run? Take your bike downtown? Always wondered why physical education is mandatory in school? Well, there is very good scientific evidence in favor of the benefits of exercise for your teenage brain.

Your teenage brain is glorious - if you didn’t know that already. Neuroscience has shown that the brain goes through critical periods of growth and development - while in the womb, the first year of life, and the early years; right into adulthood. What scientists have more recently discovered is that the brain undergoes a 'secret mission' of change during the period between the ages of 12 to 19 years that is truly unique.

Physical Health

You probably already know that exercise is good for keeping you physically healthy, giving you stronger muscles and bones; and keep you at a healthy weight. What is lesser-known are the benefits of exercise on the brain. Exercise increases blood flow throughout your body - remember your heart needs to beat faster to manage the increased need for oxygen in every cell in your body. The other benefit of increased blood flow in the body is increased blood flow to the brain. More blood to the brain means more delivery of oxygen and nutrients - such as glucose. As a byproduct, you feel awesome. The brain thanks you for the increased blood flow by making more serotonin - the brain feel-good hormone.

Any exercise that raises your heart rate, not only increases the speed at which your body delivers nutrients, it also increased the speed at which the body removes toxins.

What exercise also enables through the increased access to nutrients and oxygen is additional 'energy' to multiply the number of brain connections. Exercise is related to the growth of brain areas, particularly the dentate gyrus - an area of the brain linked to memory and information processing.

As you probably already know, the greater the number of brain connections the quicker your brain can process information. The faster you become at coming up with witty remarks, not to mention being able to do math!

Brain Growth

This all happens because the increased blood flow to the brain enables the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - what the brain uses to make new connections between neurons. Making time for physical education is essential to learning - which is why physical education is mandatory at school! The benefits of exercise are summarized in the diagram below.

From: http://chapmanroom151.weebly.com/cause-and-effect-infographics.html

As far as the benefits of exercise are concerned, the brain does not care what kind of exercise it is. Don't like to run? No problem! You can ride your bike, go for a swim, play basketball, football, lacrosse; jump on the trampoline - you get the idea. Just do any type of exercise to a level that you are a little out of breath, and you can feel your heart working a little harder than normal. I guarantee you you'll feel better after exercise, and you'll certainly become smarter.


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