Improve your memory, concentration, and mental health with exercise
Updated: Jun 8
written by: Houston Smith, DC
We all love that blissful, tired feeling that remains after completing a challenging workout. Regular exercise is great for our physiques, but did you know it's also great for the mind?
Consider research from Walsh and Tschakovsky (2018) which highlights that we release endorphins in our brain as we exercise. These endorphins make us feel great, but another compound called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) does even more for our brains. After short bouts of intense exercise or 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, BDNF stimulates neurons to create new connections, and strengthen existing ones. BDNF is found throughout the body, but large concentrations are found in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex (Walsh and Tschakovsky 2018). These areas of the brain are responsible for learning, memory, and attention.
That euphoric feeling after challenging exercise activates our brains to strengthen our memory, concentration, and quick thinking. According to the researchers, the benefits last 30 to 60 minutes after your workout is over. Next time you get off the bike in your spin class, use your increased brain-power wisely.
If you’re still not convinced that exercise is good for your mental health, consider recent research from Hartmann et al. (2021) that revealed 6 weeks of aerobic exercise training increased VO2 max and improved symptom severity of participants being treated for a mental health disorder. Those participants in the exercise group were found to have decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pshychological stress. The small sample size used in this study is a promising start to continue exploring the link between exercise and mental health.
Our brains are constantly changing and adapting to our environments, and if we live a sedentary lifestyle, then our brains will adapt to that low functioning state. It’s important to subject the body to manageable periods of stress like aerobic exercise to improve resilience and fend off feelings of anxiety and depression. So next time you feel like skipping the gym, go for a 20 minute walk or ride your bicycle to the store instead of driving. Your brain will thank you.
1, Walsh, J. J., & Tschakovsky, M. E. (2018). Exercise and circulating BDNF: Mechanisms of release and implications for the design of exercise interventions1. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 43(11), 1095–1104
2. Hartmann TE, Robertson CV, Miller TD, Hunter JR, Skein M. Associations between exercise, inflammation and symptom severity in those with mental health disorders. Cytokine. 2021 Oct;146:155648.