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Learn how exercise benefits the brain

This is an excerpt from Learning Through Movement and Music by Debby Mitchell, GeoMotion Group & Inc..

How Exercise Benefits the Brain

Jean Blaydes • Debby Mitchell

Why do we exercise? Some people exercise to lose weight. Others exercise to prevent disease. Some exercise just to feel better or to be healthy. One of the reasons we should exercise is for brain health.

Exercise benefits the brain even before it benefits the body. The brain does not store its own fuel, nor does it produce its own fuel. The brain relies on the body to get its needed fuel—oxygen and glucose—to the brain. The healthier and more physically fit the body is, the more efficiently the brain functions. This is because exercise changes the brain at a molecular
level by

  • growing new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis;
  • producing BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), nicknamed the fertilizer for the brain;
  • strengthening secondary dendritic branching that increases memory retrieval; and
  • improving mood by balancing the neurotransmitters endorphins, dopamine, cortisol, and serotonin.

The brain is a complex structure. More parts of the brain “light up,” or are used, when a person is moving or physically active. See the figure, The Human Brain, for some basic information on the anatomy of the
brain.

How Exercise Benefits the Brain

Exercise creates the optimal environment for neural plasticity, the ability of the brain to change. Exercise puts the brain and body into balance naturally by regulating brain chemicals that control mood and responses to stress. Research on the brain reveals how exercise can aid in learning and cognition (Ratey 2008):