The effect of exercise on the brain

Your brain may be the last thing on your mind when you think of the body parts that benefit from exercise.

Exercise is good for your brain. It improves your memory, makes you sleep better and reduces stress. So, exercises can reduce the risk of brain disorders such as dementia, depression or Parkinson.

In this article, we will explain how much exercise you need to do, why exercise is good for your brain and how movement works in your brain.

How much exercise do you need?

Exercise is good for your brain but also important for your condition and physical health.
How much exercise is good for you is different for everyone.

A guideline is:

  • Exercise moderately intensively (when your breath speeds up) for at least 2.5 hours a week
  • Do exercises that strengthen your muscles and bones at least twice a week
  • Moving is good, moving more is even better
  • Some exercise is better than none
  • Do not sit still too often

So, you don’t need to exercise heavily every day to keep your brain healthy. Half an hour of walking or cycling every day is already very effective.

Why is exercise good for your brain?

When you exercise enough, your brain becomes well-supplied with blood and gets the nutrition and oxygen it needs. It also ensures the production of new brain cells and strengthens the connections between them. Exercise also improves the functioning of signalling substances, making communication between brain cells increasingly smooth.

Positive effects of exercises on your brain:

  • Better thinking skills such as memory, attention understanding and learning.
  • Good sleeping. Exercise during the day helps you sleep better at night. Exercise positively affects the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and improves your sleep-wake rhythm.
  • Exercise also has a positive effect on mental health. It improves mood and reduces stress. Exercise distracts you from negative thoughts and also releases certain substances, such as the happy hormone Serotonin. 
  • For people with (brain) disorders, exercise can have a positive effect and reduce symptoms. For them, it is important to exercise under supervision to monitor their limits
  • Regular exercise increases your immunity. This reduces the risk of diseases and infections, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and viruses.

How does movement work in your brain?

Walking, cycling, kicking a ball around. You usually do it without thinking. But in meantime, your brain is hard at work. Three-quarters of all your brain cells are involved in the movement.

Your brain is made up of different areas. To move well, different areas of the brain work closely together. The brain areas control movements by sending signals to your muscles. But also to other parts of your body. Like your eyes and ears. When you hear your favourite music, you often move along naturally.