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Neuroscience Behind Physical Exercise





Physical Exertion & The Brain: The Profound Impacts of Physical Exercise on Brain Function


Article by Danica Picyk

Did you know that hitting the gym, participating in sports, and daily aerobic exercise all have significant impacts on brain function? Among the five other vital bodily organs, the brain has been proven to be significantly impacted by daily physical exertion. Let’s take a closer look at the neuroscience behind physical exercise.


When thinking of the vital functions of the brain, memory is a concept that commonly surfaces to mind. Through various scientific studies, participation in physical exercise has been proven to strengthen learning and memory abilities in youth and young adults. Scientific studies have alluded to the fact that increased physical exercise (aerobic exercise in particular) can prompt an increase in gray matter (tissue in the brain and spinal cord involved in movement, memory, and emotions) volume in the hippocampus (a brain structure responsible for long-term memory formation), and increase anterior hippocampal volume. Increased hippocampal volume correlates to improved memory function; memory is a vital component in our everyday lives, helping to process, perceive, and take in new and old information about the world around us and with time, that ability weakens. Aerobic exercise, however, has been proven to be sufficient for enhancing hippocampal volume, increasing improved memory function in the brain.


Researchers have examined the relationship between brain plasticity (the nervous system’s ability to change its activity in response to stimuli exposure) and physical exercise, and have found that physical exercise causes structural and functional changes in the brain in both humans and animals. In humans, physical exercise has been proven to prevent a cognitive decline related to aging; scientific studies have proven that physical exercise facilitates neuroplasticity of certain brain structures (as mentioned previously, the hippocampus) contributing to greater cognitive function and vast enhancement of an individual's ability to respond to new demands with behavioral adaptations. Furthermore, new evidence has suggested that maintaining the neuro-cognitive benefits caused by physical exercise must be done by increasing and maintaining one’s cardiovascular fitness level, benefitting the psychological and physical body. In animals, intense motor activity has been proven to increase neurons (nerve cells that send messages throughout the body) and glial cells (cells that provide support both to neurons) in the brain, as well as increased spatial abilities.


To conclude, the relationship between physical exercise and the brain is positively correlated. If you are someone who partakes in daily physical exercise, remember to remind yourself that the activities you are partaking in are not only beneficial to the physical aspects of your body, but to the psychological aspects as well!


To learn more about the scientific studies conducted to identify the correlation between physical exercise and the brain and how physical exercise impacts brain function, please adhere to the following articles:


Exercise and the brain: something to chew on (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166223609000563)


Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits


Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory


Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition


Running enhances neurogenesis, learning, and long-term potentiation in mice


Associations between aerobic exercise and dopamine-related reward-processing: Informing a model of human exercise engagement (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051122000928)

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