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Want a strong brain? Exercise!

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 22, 2020.

The benefits of your exercise program might just be in your head. Turns out that all the work you do to build a better bicep helps your brain, too.

Although the research isn't fully conclusive, more studies are showing how essential exercise is for keeping your brain fit. And the best news? You can actually build a stronger brain through exercise.

These are just a few of the remarkable findings that might motivate you to either recommit to your fitness regimen or get started today.

  • Feel better. Walking and other moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to help stabilize your mood and help with depressive symptoms. Studies have also found that regular exercise helps people better control their stress and regulate their emotions.
  • Enhance learning. While scientists don't fully understand how physical activity contributes to learning, they're discovering that it works. In one study, when teachers added exercise routines to math lessons — called motor-enriched learning — math scores improved faster for the exercisers than for the kids who didn't exercise during the lesson. Other studies have found that exercise helps improve reading comprehension, too.
  • Sharpen memory. Although brain size decreases as you age, research has shown that exercise can actually help reverse that — at any age. One study found that physical activity helped participants build measurable increases in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that enables you to create and store memories.

    Another study showed that people with better cardiovascular fitness as young adults had better memory, motor skills and executive function 25 years later as middle-aged adults.

  • Improve vision. When you exercise, you're stimulating the neurons in the part of your brain that helps you sort out and understand what you're seeing. Research has found evidence that your visual system becomes more sensitive during exercise and may actually enhance visual learning.

Ready to start building a buff brain? You don't need to become a fitness fiend to reap benefits. In many studies, just walking briskly for 30 to 60 minutes, three to five times a week, contributed to measurable brain improvements.

Evidence does suggest that resistance training and aerobic exercise — walking, running, biking, swimming — may help your brain more than stretching exercises do. In one study, older adults with mild cognitive impairment who lifted weights two to three times a week improved muscle tone and cognitive function.

Your brain is amazing. Billions of nerve cells work together in harmony to coordinate every second of your life: your movements, behavior, thoughts, memories and emotions. So take your brain to the gym to maximize whole-body health.

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