Exercise and the brain: How working out is good for both your mind and body

Exercise and the brain: How working out is good for both your mind and body

10 Nov 2021

Fun fact: the brain works just like muscles! You can do a bunch of things like memory exercises to ensure you stay sharp upstairs. But did you know that plain ol’ physical activity or just moving around helps improve brain function too? That’s not all, physical activity can help develop muscles, maintain skin health, and promote weight loss.

Here’s a list of things on how exercise can help improve cognitive areas of your brain to staybrain healthy.

Exercise benefits your cognitive skills

Cognitive skills are brain-based skills that cover things like learning, reasoning, and memory formation. In different situations that people encounter on a daily basis, cognitive skills help a person process information correctly and carry out tasks of varying levels of novelty and difficulty with ease. However, cognitive skills are known to decline with age or can be compromised by other factors such as stress. The benefits of exercise are manifold and can add years to your life (10).

Exercise is your best bet to keep these skills sharp, showing the link between exercise and the brain. In one study, doctors learned that physical exercise or activity improves memory and thinking in activities that require more use of these skills, especially among older adults (1). To be more specific, cardio exercises that get your heart pumping and increase heart rate, like brisk walking, cycling, and running, are particularly helpful in slowing down cognitive decline, especially when it is age-related (2).

Regular movement reduces stress

Regular physical activity can reduce the effects of stress by increasing the production of endorphins or what you might know as one of “the happy hormones (3).” The hormone earned its nickname thanks to two of its main functions: the alleviation of discomfort and its ability to provide a general sense of well-being. If you’ve ever heard of marathoners talking about experiencing a runner’s high, or how any individual who gets regular exercise say they feel better after a workout, those sensations are caused by aerobic activity that stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins at their most powerful have even been described as the body’s naturally produced painkillers, making them one of the body’s first lines of defence against stress (9).

Perhaps the biggest benefit of having endorphins regularly flowing through your body is that you become more resilient to negativity. While stress is an unavoidable part of life, what matters is how well we’re able to handle it. With endorphin-stimulating exercise, we can remain motivated, focused, and energised regardless of the stressful situations that come our way.

Another way we see positive effects of exercise on the brain is when physical activities, especially those involving slow, deliberate, repetitive motions, become meditative and calming. The body is exercised and the mind unwinds in another show of the relationship between exercise and the brain.

Physical activity can regulate mood

Regular physical activity is an excellent way to lift your mood, highlighting another connection between exercise and the brain. Research has found that exercise can be effective in alleviating mild to moderate cases of mental health issues and other experiences of low mood. Both aerobic exercise and strength training are useful in reducing these mood-related symptoms. While the exact mechanism by which exercise does this has yet to be fully understood, doctors believe that exercise is linked to increased production of serotonin. Similar to endorphins, serotonin regulates our feelings of well-being and happiness (4).

Exercise also encourages a brain-derived neurotrophic factor that aids the process of neurogenesis or the process in which fresh brain cells are born. This allows the brain to recover more quickly from stressful events; meaning you could feel down for shorter periods, be able to bounce back faster from emotional stress more quickly, or not be as adversely affected by negative emotions. Additionally, this neurotrophic factor can reduce immune system chemicals that may aggravate the symptoms of mood disorders (4).

Being active can reduce inflammation

It’s true! Exercising is important in protecting the inner workings of our physical health. While inflammation is an essential part of the body’s response to a threat, excessive inflammation can take a toll on the body and the brain. When the body is inflamed, several mechanisms are activated and this may result in neurodegeneration or loss of function of nerve cells (5).

It is believed that regular exercise has anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce fat mass and adipose tissue inflammation (6). Done properly and regularly, cardiovascular exercise can reduce markers of systemic inflammation.

Regular workouts can change the physical structure of the brain

One of the effects of exercise on the brain is being able to create structural changes in the organ itself. Specifically, exercise can increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, and improve the structure of white matter, the nerve fibres that connect the brain to grey matter (1). This is important because brain tissue is essentially made up of grey matter and white matter; its physical existence would be greatly compromised if either white or gray matter was lacking, or damaged. The volume of grey matter is also believed to be linked to various cognitive abilities.

In one study, increases in oxygen uptake that occurs during cardio exercise was linked to increased volume of grey matter (2). Increasing gray matter should matter to you because it’s what allows us to control movement, form memories, and regulate our emotions. If these are brain functions you’d like to be able to maintain over time, exercise and the brain is a topic worth exploring.

Social interaction and forging bonds with other adults, partaking in hobbies and meaningful activities, managing stress through relaxation techniques are some ways of brain training important for the maintenance of healthy cognition and brain health, and to prevent serious cognitive impairment (11).

Exercise and the brain

Combining exercise with supplementation for the brain

Science has repeatedly shown the relationship between exercise and the brain. Exercise has many positive effects on the brain, but for those that would like to do more for brain health, you may also want to consider eating a healthy diet that consists of all the important brain-supportive nutrients.

Alongside a well-rounded diet, mineral and vitamin supplements can help support the relationship between exercise and the brain. Here are specific supplements you can consider for brain health:

Zinc plus copper

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in the normal development of the central nervous system (7). The highest concentrations of zinc in the body are found in cells located in the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for learning and memory, highlighting the link between zinc and maintaining brain function.


With iron playing an important role in oxygen transport, it is no surprise that it is also an essential mineral needed for brain function. It is closely involved in cellular metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis. Inversely, an iron deficiency is linked with impaired cognitive faculties.

*Iron should only be taken if prescribed by your doctor.


Studies suggest that astaxanthin, a lesser-known natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, has the potential to support cognitive function among ageing individuals. Astaxanthin in supplement form is uniquely designed to support cognitive function.


Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body adapt better to stress and reduces symptoms of stress. Vitable’s Ashwagandha also helps reduce symptoms of mild anxiety.


Magnesium is involved in several processes at the cellular level that keeps the nervous system performing at its best. It supports nerve conduction, a process where nerves send information to parts of the body and vice versa, and contributes to supporting brain function.

B complex

The B group of vitamins are essential in the optimal functioning of the body, including maintaining brain health. Studies suggest a link between cognitive ability and vitamin B levels. Vitables’s B complex harnesses the power of each B vitamin to help you manage stress and support brain development and function.

Acetyl L-carnitine

Studies show that the acetylated and bioavailable form of L-carnitine can improve the cognitive function of individuals facing age-related cognitive issues. Supplementation of ALC has been shown to support the health of the nervous system by maintaining brain health. If you’re looking for an ALC supplement, Vitable’s ALC helps maintain and support cognitive functions and assist the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Vitamin C

Beyond boosting your immunity, vitamin C is being studied for its potential therapeutic roles against neurodegenerative disorders involving high levels of oxidative stress (8). Vitable’s Vitamin C Plus is enriched with rosehip to help protect immune cells from toxic compounds which plays a role in boosting the immune system and supporting brain health.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 maintains brain health. Specifically, this B vitamin has been studied for its contribution to fighting memory loss.

Ginkgo and Brahmi

Ginkgo and Brahmi are two medicinal herbs known for their brain-boosting abilities. They’ve been part of traditional Chinese and Indian medicinal systems for centuries and have been touted for their abilities to nourish the brain. Vitable harnesses the powerful abilities of these two herbs considered as brain tonics to support overall brain function.

Fish oil

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in the development of the central nervous system as it maintains cell membrane fluidity and enzyme function, among other functions. Vitable’s Fish Oil supplement is a concentrated blend of naturally-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

While exercise is a powerful way to improve brain health and ward off disease, you may also want to consider a vitamin and mineral supplement to accompany a well-rounded diet.

If you’re typing personalised vitamin packs in Australia in your search browser, then there’s no need to look any further. With Vitable Australia, you can make your own vitamin subscription box containing a wide range of brain-boosting supplements. Vitable offers the best vitamin packs complete with vitamin delivery straight to your doorstep.

Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:

Zinc plus copper | Iron | Astaxanthin | Ashwagandha | Magnesium | B complex  | Acetyl L-carnitine | Vitamin C | Vitamin B12 | Ginkgo Brahmi | Fish Oil

*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.


  1. Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Why Exercise Protects Your Brain’s Health (and What Kind Is Best). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-exercise-protects-your-brains-health-and-what-kind-is-best/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Expert Alert: Keep exercising: New study finds it’s good for your brain’s gray matter. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/keep-exercising-new-study-finds-its-good-for-your-brains-gray-matter/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  3. Mayo Clinic. Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469 Accessed September 18, 2021
  4. BetterHealth. Exercise and mood. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mood Accessed September 18, 2021
  5. National Institutes of Health. (2015). Systemic Inflammation and the Brain: Novel Roles of Genetic, Molecular, and Environmental Cues as Drivers of Neurodegeneration. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313590/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  6. National Institutes of Health. (2011). Exercise, Inflammation and Aging. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3320801/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  7. National Institutes of Health. (2013). Zinc in the central nervous system: From molecules to behavior. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3757551/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  8. National Institutes of Health. (2009). Vitamin C Function in the Brain: Vital Role of the Ascorbate Transporter (SVCT2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2649700/ Accessed September 18, 2021
  9. McGill Office for Science and Security. (2017). What are endorphins? https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/what-are-endorphins Accessed September 23, 2021.
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389 Oct 2021
  11. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults Oct 2020