5 Types of Exercise That Boost Brain Health

Not surprisingly, exercise supports a healthy brain. Not only does exercise offer incredible, immediate perks like lifting your mood, clearing your head, and giving you that post-workout boost, it also causes your brain to do some remarkable things for long-term cognitive health and function.

“Exercising in general is probably the best thing you can do for your brain,” says Matthew Stultz-Kolehmein, Ph.D., FACSM, an exercise physiologist and exercise researcher at Yale New Haven Hospital. “In fact, some researchers think the initial function of the brain is to help people move.”

Physical exercise and brain health—positive associations between mental health and mood management, memory and executive function, and prevention of degenerative brain diseases are an important topic of research and discussion. We’ve learned a lot about the actual, structural brain changes that occur during exercise, including changes in brain volume and connectivity, the amount of oxygen going to brain tissue, neuroplasticity (how our neurons grow, change, and communicate), and increases. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, a protein critical for the maintenance and creation of neurons) and more.

Researchers and doctors are now diving deeper into how much exercise we need and what exercise is best for optimal brain health. Some exercise is better than no exercise at all, but the best strategy to maximize exercise for brain health is an ever-evolving topic.

How often should you exercise for brain health?

According to the World Health Organization, the current general recommendation for exercise amount and duration is 50 minutes of exercise three times a week, says Stephen M., director of the Cleveland Clinic Ski Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging. Rao says. A precise prescription for the ideal intensity and type of movement to be performed in those minutes is still being researched across the board.

“A good interval is one where you finish the workout still feeling energized,” says Stults-Kolehmainen. That means you don’t need to engage in exercises that are completely draining and exhausting. If you are, you’re probably working really hard, at least in the context of brain benefits. “Cerebral blood flow appears to peak at 60 to 70 percent of oxygen uptake and then decline thereafter,” he says. translation? Working out at 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort seems to do good things for your brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for cognition, short-term memory, and executive function. Efforts beyond that show a reduction in the effect of exercise on the brain.

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It’s important to note that everyone starts from a different place. Someone who previously lived a sedentary lifestyle without regular physical activity can start exercising for 10 minutes every day and experience the same benefit – the effect an activity/person experiences – as a more active person who exercises regularly. 30 minutes. The point is where to start your That’s because zero-to-10-minute steps can have a very positive effect on your brain. Once you reach the physical point where you can handle more, make things a little harder or exercise for a little longer to make more progress and challenge your brain.

We know that different exercises affect different brain functions. Almost all exercise provides some benefit – even helping to reduce stress, which can have a negative effect on the brain when chronic. Consistency and regularity are also key factors in exercising for a sharp, healthy brain. One well-known study on exercise and brain health looked at the effects on brain health of several different types of exercise over different periods of time. It has found that different types of exercise have different benefits for the brain. and That exercise has different benefits for the brain over time (weeks, months, years vs. days), regardless of the type of exercise.

The best ways to exercise for brain health

While it’s hard to prescribe a one-size-fits-all fitness strategy for everyone, these are some things to keep in mind and help inform your exercise routine. At this point, more studies have been done to show that aerobic exercise can be better than stretching, toning, or strength training (again, in the context of working for your brain).

Also, “Exercises that make more demands on your attention make more demands on the brain,” says Stults-Kolehmainen. This can be in the form of an exercise that requires a few steps (like tai chi or dance) or an exercise that keeps your attention enough to keep you from getting bored or sending you into autopilot mode. However, there is a fine line. You’ll want to find enough exercise to keep you focused without making you throw in the towel.

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Variety and novelty are also important for brain fitness in general, so diversifying exercise types, mixing up your workouts and challenging yourself to learn a new activity can help keep the mind sharp and neurons re-energized.

Try planning your workouts throughout the week, including a variety of methods: a few days of gym machine cardio, a yoga workout sprinkled in, and one or two days of strength-training with weights or resistance bands.

At the end of the day, however, Stults-Kolehmainen reiterates what many fitness experts, doctors and researchers say: “The best exercise is the exercise you actually do and keep up.”

Here are five types of exercise that have healthy benefits for your brain.


Don’t skip that Zumba or salsa class! Dance is not only fun, freeing and physically exhausting – but it’s also great for your brain. Multiple studies, including one in the New England Journal of Medicine, have shown that dancing can help reduce the risk of dementia.

Stults-Kolehmainen notes that “humans thrive on novelty.” Dance is a good choice for the brain because “it’s very innovative, very complex, socially and intellectually engaging—all things the brain values,” he says.

Hate dancing in front of people? Visit an online streaming platform like Obé or Sculpt Society that offers dance cardio, dance-infused full-body fitness, and more.


Outdoor cycling appears to show cognitive benefits in people aged 50 and over. Studies have shown that indoor interval training cycling has positive effects on Parkinson’s patients as well. Rao is currently conducting a clinical trial with high-risk sedentary patients aged 65 to 80 using the Peloton stationary bike.

“We hope that exercise will decrease [negative] changes in the brain,” says Rao. “The reason is that exercise is neuroprotective and reduces inflammation in the brain. Alzheimer’s changes are clearly exacerbated by inflammation.

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Interval training

Interval training—an exercise in which you alternate between two activities or two intensity levels—has been shown to increase BDNF (that key protein for neuronal function), which helps with learning and memory. However, finding that sweet spot – getting in a good workout without overtaxing your system – is key.

You may have heard of HIIT, which stands for High-Intensity Interval Training, usually in one-on-one (sometimes two-on-one) work, involving really strenuous exercise and recovery periods for several cycles. – Recovery rate. Some studies show that one minute of high-intensity exercise followed by one minute of low-intensity exercise has positive results, but for optimal brain benefits, even Stults-Kolehmainen suggests scaling back to make each interval a small burst: jumping for a minute, then seconds Six runs hard. This way, you’ll still get the benefits of interval training without the build-up of lactic acid and other negative effects of training. Really hard.

Don’t worry too much about making your workout super-high-intensity, especially if you’re just starting out. Instead, focus more on sticking to an interval pattern and varying your exercise (eg, walk for a minute, walk for a minute). Bonus: Interval training tends to hold interest longer than straight high-intensity training or 45 minutes of moderate movement on the elliptical.

Fast walking

Walking has many wonderful health benefits, but brisk walking does even more wonders for the brain. A recent study showed that walking more than 4,000 steps a day has a positive effect on memory in older adults. Walking is also simple, free, (potentially) social and requires no equipment. If you can get outside, a brisk walk in nature has added bonuses.

Tai Chi

Combining balance and control, breath and body coordination, and various movements, tai chi is another valuable exercise for the brain. Studies have shown that this ancient form of meditation can promote cognitive development and memory, as well as promote mood regulation and stress reduction. Tai chi is low-impact and easy on the joints, so it’s great for older adults and exercise beginners. It is equipment-free, instructor-led, and can be performed outdoors.


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