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  • Writer's pictureSher Gentile


  • Doctors and neuroscientists have long espoused the brain benefits of exercise. Working out can enhance memory, speed up reaction times, improve attention, and alleviate depression. It may even stave off neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

  • In the brain, exercise increases levels of important hormones and neurochemicals that help forge connections between brain cells. The star of the show is a growth hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.

  • BDNF helps the brain build new connections, or synapses, between neurons, which are the foundation for learning. Many of these synapses are built in the hippocampus, the brain’s mood and memory hub, and in the prefrontal cortex, which is where higher-level executive functions originate, like decision-making and attention.


  • Exercise also raises levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endogenous opioids (also known as endorphins), which are critical for regulating mood, motivation, and feelings of reward.

  • Exercise seems to be good for practically every function in the brain and body,” says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at UCLA. If exercise were a drug, we would say its benefits were too good to be true.

  • So what type of exercise is best for your brain? Research suggests that higher-intensity workouts may provide the biggest cognitive benefits, but the mood boost occurs no matter your exertion level. Really, the best exercise regimen is one that you enjoy and will do again the next day.

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