The Cognitive benefits of Physical Activity

The Cognitive benefits of Physical Activity


The Cognitive benefits of Physical Activity/Fitness

I am going to make a bit of an assumption here, but if you travel for work, I am going to assume that you are what I refer to as a knowledge worker. What I mean by “knowledge worker” is someone that makes their living based on what they know rather than what they ‘do’ (I.E. Physical in nature such as a construction worker, builder or road worker) These jobs, although they require a very specific type of knowledge and skill are typically more physical in nature and ‘local’, that is there is not usually a lot of travel involved. Also, as these jobs are physical in nature, the need for someone to work to maintain their fitness level, either while traveling or at home, is not usually a concern!

So, you are a knowledge worker, this to me means that you want to stay sharp and “on top of your game” in business and in life.

Exercise and physical activity are your friends here!

You already know that exercise improves your physical fitness and self-confidence but staying in shape can also boost your brainpower. Regular, moderately intense exercise maintains healthy blood pressure and weight, helps you feel more energetic, lifts your mood, improves self-confidence, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps your heart healthy. Raising your heartbeat sends blood and oxygen to the brain, but other changes happen, too.

There have been numerous studies over the years that show how beneficial exercise is to maintaining and even improving your thinking and memory skills.

Maintaining ‘balance’ in your Fitness routine

As I have written in previous posts, as humans we are creatures of habit. We like routine and tend to stick to what we like and are ‘good’ at.

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.

Resistance training did not have the same results. This is important if you only do resistance training or weight lifting.

In order to get the most in your quest to improve your cognitive abilities through exercise, balance is key and you should incorporate Cardio into your routine.

Weight training is fantastic for your muscles and bones and should most definitely be part of your fitness routine, both at home and while you travel. However, balance is important and you should incorporate different types of training to maintain balance and get the most from your efforts.

Another study in Germany, of elderly German citizens, showed that exercise to improve balance, coordination and agility made a clear and positive impact on the participant’s brain structure and cognitive function.

This is another very strong reason why you should vary your routine and balance your program to include all aspects of fitness.

Reduced risk of dementia

A 2014 study from the University of Eastern Finland has shown that the regular physical activity and exercise, even if started in mid-life can reduce the chances of dementia setting in as we age. The study found that people who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The research also showed that it’s never too late to start. Becoming more physically active after midlife was shown to lower dementia risk.

As a knowledge worker, this alone should be enough to get you “off the proverbial couch” and start moving!

Improved memory skills.

If you travel often for work, you may sometimes find yourself tired and a bit dragged down. This can manifest itself in you sometimes finding yourself a bit ‘foggy’ in meetings. Perhaps you blame it on being tired and jet-lagged. It may be, however, research has shown that exercise turns out to be an excellent way to enhance your brain health and thus improving memory.

Research suggests that exercising moderately and regularly stimulates brain regions involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better. When you exercise and move around, you are using more brain cells, using more brain cells turns on the genes to make more BDNF.

As a busy professional perhaps you are ‘juggling’ a lot of different things at the same time. You need to remember which client is expecting your follow up and what that follow up. Yes, we all take notes, and should, but there are some things you just need to remember.

Regular exercise, whether it be strength training or cardio is a proven way to help you improve your memory.

Researchers at the University of North Florida put people through a routine of dynamic exercises, such as walking on a balance beam, navigating around objects, pole climbing, and carrying awkwardly weighted objects, such as Sandbags, then tested the cognitive effects. Their findings? Participants’ working memory shot up 50 percent. Exercises such as this force people to adapt to different environmental and terrain changes, thus challenging — and strengthening — their working memory…

Brain Health

As we get older, It’s natural for some regions our brain to begin to shrink. For instance, studies show the hippocampus shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia — a loss that is associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive difficulties.

Another study has shown that Adults who exercised (walked) for 40 minutes, three days a week had an increase of 2% in their hippocampus over a year-long time period.

The bottom line

The facts are there, and these are not alternative facts. Exercise improves the brain and there is strong evidence to suggest that it actually alters the brain in a positive manner.

Next trip you make, get up early and go for a run. Be it on the treadmill, in a local park or on a back road, run!  If you can’t make that happen, Walk the last and first mile. (See my earlier post to understand what I mean)

Move and not only will your body thank you for it, but so will your brain.

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts!


This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. It’s no mystery that exercise and eating healthy is food for the brain. This is most likely why I am never on my toes because I unfortunately do neither and I always feel drained. My brain isn’t as sharp as it can be because off my poor eating habits and my lack of exercise.

    Let’s not even talk about memory or lack of, yes it’s a problem!

    I have been thinking about getting a bike… I’m not someone who could be into going to the gym so I thought maybe I can start bike riding and this would be my exercise for the day. Think this would be beneficial to my friend the brain? If yes, how long should I ride a day? 

    1. Hello Salvatore,

      Thank you for stopping by!

      First off all, having been in gyms all around the world for the past 25 years, I would ask why do you say “I’m not someone who could be into going to the gym”? Everyone can go to a gym somewhere…

      However, if it’s not ‘your thing’, I get that… 

      Bicycling is a fantastic exercise and will definitely help you improve your cognitive capabilities, along with your physical health. 

      My recommendation would be 3 times a week for somewhere between 30 – 45 minutes at time. Enough to get your heart rate up, and your blood flowing!



  2. I really appreciate your article. I believe that we are triune beings and that when we strengthen any of those three parts (mind, body, spirit) we also strengthen the others. I agree that the body needs attention as does the mind. If someone is, I am not, but if someone is a knowledge worker, as you put it, then they would most certainly benefit from being more active.

    I’m not 100% sure if we are on the exact same page here, but I feel that if not, we certainly are close. I have family members that suffer from memory lose, or worse and I would love it if I could get them to be more active. I too believe, feel and understand that the mind benefits from physical activity. 

    I very much enjoyed your article and hope that you keep up the great work.

    1. Hello free4life, 

      Thank You for stopping in…

      Glad you appreciated the article and hope you got something for it. 

      Can you start out by going with your relatives for a walk? Don’t make it about exercise, or getting better, just spending time together and wanting to get some fresh air? Do this a couple of times a week and get them to want to go for the walk. 

      I know it sounds sneaky, but it’s a subtle way of sneaking exercise into their lives without broadcasting it as ‘exercise’…

      Hope the best for you!


  3. Hi Brad,

    There are definitely cognitive benefits of Physical Activity. having had my parents living with me for many years and watching how active they kept, proved it to me.My father died at the age of 86 and my mother emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 92. She died at the age of 96 and although she became physically frail, she had such a sharp mind.

    After reading this informative article, I have really pricked my conscience. I know that I should be walking and exercising. Have become addicted to my laptop the last number of months.

    I believe you when you say that exercise improves brain activity. Being active also cured my migraines. We are now longer living lives of constant movement, when we all did all our own chores etc. 

    As I taught aerobics for many years, I do understand just how important it is to keep moving. Reading this very informative post which is filled with good common sense, have decided that from tomorrow am a walker again. Will be putting aside an hour to walk during each day.

    Please note, I didn’t say I would try to walk, but that I am a walker.

    As I am in my seventies will not be doing aerobic classes again.

    Thank you for pricking my conscience.

    My husband, who was not able to do much exercise due to arthritis, since childhood, and had quite a sedentary work life now has a brain disease. Do you think this could be connected?  He is only 76. All very sad. His brain used to be so active but he is now not able to make any sense at all.

    1. Hello Jill, 

      Thank you for stopping by and I’m glad you liked the post!

      Congrats on being a walker! Smart move as I believe that Walking is one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated exercises that nearly everyone can do! Start slow and progress you feel you are able to!

      As I am not a doctor, I cannot comment on the possible connection between your husbands sedentary life and his now brain disease. (My sincerest condolences on this, very sorry to hear!) I would strongly suggest you follow whatever advice you are receiving from his Doctor, but do ask if he is able to Walk with you, once or twice a week…

      All the best, 


  4. I must admit, being an active gym-ger 4 times per week, I do experience the numerous benefits of both cardio and weights.

    Firstly, I’m slowly losing weight and dropping down to the next waist size (HUGE bonus). Secondly, I feel my muscles slowly building. Thirdly, it’s helping to strengthen a knee ligament injury. And last but not least, an hour in the gym quickly puts me in a positive mood, especially if I’m feeling negative beforehand. Plus, it makes you feel more confident about yourself.

    As for the memory part, I’m still working on that lol.

    Question: What’s the best food to eat for building some muscle mass? I’ve heard that chicken is a good source of protein and a muscle builder. But what other meats? What about protein bars and shakes, are they any use for muscle growth?

    Cheers, Neil

    1. Hello Neil, 

      Thank you for stopping by and joining the discussion…

      Great to hear that you are an active gym – goer and train several times a week!

      Regarding your question; Protein is what builds muscle. Yes, Chicken is good, but so is Turkey, Beef, Pork and yes Tofu…  Regarding Protein bars and shakes, they can help supplement your diet, but be wary as many of them are high in Sugar. 

      My opinion is that unless you are planning on competing in a Bodybuilding contest, these are unnecessary, just eat a clean, healthy diet and your body should respond appropriately. 

      Hope this helps



  5. Yes, I totally agree that walking and physical cardio exercise is very good for the brain.  I try to take an hour walk every day as I am bound writing posts for my blog.

    As working at a desk can be very tiring and straining for the brain as well as the eyes, it is commonsense to take several mini breaks and relax your mind from the glare of the computer screen.

    I also believe in internal cleansing to feel alert and have increased energy to live your life. Bowel cleansing and liver flushing are important parts of the body to keep clear of debris, toxins and stones.  If we are green inside, we are clean inside.

    1. Hello Stella, 

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Agree, working at a desk all day, can be tiring and damaging as well, both physically and mentally. We have to get up and move every so often. There are now apps that one can use if they’ve been sitting for too long and tell them to go take a walk. 



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