How does exercise improve brain function? | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

How does exercise improve brain function?

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about your brand. Let us do the heavy lifting.

Advertiser Disclosure: We strive to help you make confident fitness software decisions. Comparison shopping should be easy. Our partners do not influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: The Editorial Team at is dedicated to providing fair, unbiased information about the fitness industry. We update our site regularly and all content is reviewed by credentialed fitness experts.

Get the Basics...

  • Exercise does impact specific brain functions.
  • People who use exercise as a form of stress relief seem to have a better ability to focus later in the day.
  • Cardio exercise can result in new cell growth and improved memory.

The belief that exercise improves brain function is becoming more commonly accepted.

The physical and emotional benefits of working out are no longer questioned.

Now, exercise is also recognized as improving memory, concentration, and other related brain functions.

The article that follows will review some of the findings that have led to these discoveries.

Charles Hillman, a kinesiology and health professor at the University of Illinois, published a study in Health Psychology that found that cognition may be benefited by regular physical activity during the early to middle years of human life.

Additionally, it may protect against the loss of the task of cognition in older adults.

Apparently, the findings indicate a need to encourage regular exercise, starting in the early years, and continuing throughout life.

However, more research is necessary in order to better understand how physical activity relates to cognition for individuals of every age.

To start your exercise routine for a healthy body and mind, sign up for a PRO plan today.

What Is the Connection Between Exercise and Brain Function?

Hillman indicated that previous research on cognition and exercise seems to focus mainly on the older population. Tests look at executive control function or ECF.

Participants convey their physical behavior and take a battery of tests designed to show performance capability. Such tasks are used to measure response accuracy and reaction time.

ECF has to do with various processes, including:

  • Scheduling
  • Memory
  • Task coordination
  • Planning
  • Inhibition

The point is that these are activities that you have to actually think about while performing. Additionally, such a task never becomes a habit, so every time that you do it, you have to be aware of what you are doing.

What Does the Study Show About Brain Function and Exercise?

This was a controlled study, meaning that it was controlled for both physical gender and intelligence. Aspects of the study pertain to participation in physical activities or in cognitive functions. Leaders of the study found that there was a slower time for reaction among the older subjects when compared with the younger ones. The younger subjects also had a faster, better, reaction time pertaining to their purchase a patient in physical activity.

In both older and younger test subjects, those who were physically active on a regular basis showed better physical performance and cognitive function in both reaction time. It is important to note, however, that Hillman found no positive correlation between response accuracy and regular physical exercise among the group of younger participants. This is not the first study to show such results.

Get More Out of Your Health and Fitness Routine. Go PRO!

Sign Up

What Do the Study Results, and Other Brain Research, Mean for Me and My Exercise Program?

The results of this and other studies show that exercise does impact specific brain functions. While the specifics seem to change as we age, the fact that being physically fit has a positive impact on cognitive function does not.

However, Hillman and his team noted obvious improvements in activities that had minute executive parts as well. Hillman believes that this showed a relationship between physical activity and cognitive performance that is larger for executive control functions.

  • Concentration: while research is on-going, anecdotal evidence also points to the benefits of exercise. People who use exercise as a form of stress relief seem to have a better ability to focus later in the day. Of course, research may point to a reason why in the case of depression. The impact of exercise on depression is positive because the endorphins that are released during a workout lift your mood due to the way they interact with your brain synapses.
  • Memory: finally, a simple cardio workout is going to get the oxygen moving to your brain. In fact, a March 2007 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that this type of exercise can result in new cell growth and improved memory.

The bottom line is that exercise is good for you, in every possible way. Start by aiming for three days a week with a minimum of 20 minutes a day, and build up from there. Exercise, literally, clears your mind.

Science is just starting to prove what so many people already understand. The mind and body are closely connected. Exercise can improve brain function, emotional balance, and physical strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.

Sign up for a PRO plan for access to workouts so that you can start sculpting your body and mind today! Go PRO now.

Learn more about Fitness Business Management Software.

Schedule your demo today.