Physical Activity Improves Brain Function

October 28, 2018 Joe Brady

As if there were not enough reasons already to increase your physical activity. More and more studies are showing physical activity improves brain function in those who are moderately physically active.

One Cochrane analysis of eleven randomly controlled clinical trials showed there is evidence that aerobic physical activities which improve cardiorespiratory fitness are beneficial for cognitive function in healthy older adults, with effects observed for motor function, cognitive speed, delayed memory functions and auditory and visual attention. We used to think that smart people were physically active but it may be that physically active people become smarter.

Another posibility of course is perhaps being sedentary makes you stupid. The sea squirt is a creature that illustrates this posibility. tHe Sea squirt spends its adolescence as a swimming, moving creature and all animals that move have a brain to tell them where to go. When the sea squirt reaches maturity it anchors itself to a bit of coral and becomes sedentary. Once it is sedentary it’s body begins to digest it’s own brain. Perhaps being sedentary really does make you stupid. More research is called for on this theory. But for for more information on what we do know about cognitive function and physical activity see;

Another study showed that physical exercise has positive benefits on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroplasticity is the term used for the brain’s ability to adapt it’s function and also it’s structure to improve learning and the acquisition of new skills. Recent studies have suggested that combining physical and cognitive training might result in a mutual enhancement of both interventions.


The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its Scientific Report to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services. This report summarizes the scientific evidence on physical activity and health and will be used to develop the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The following cognitive benefits of physical activity are from that scientific report.

Moderate levels of Physical Activity Can:

  • Reduced risk of dementia
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Improved cognitive function following bouts of aerobic activity
  • Improved quality of life
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression in healthy people and in people with existing clinical syndromes
  • Reduced incidence of depression

In addition according to the American College of Sports Medicine Regular physical activity can:

  • Reduce mortality and the risk of recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50%.
  • Lower the risk of colon cancer by over 60%.
  • Reduce the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40%.
  • Reduce the incidence of heart disease and high blood pressure by approximately 40%.
  • Lower the risk of stroke by 27%.
  • Lower the risk of developing type II diabetes by 58%
  • Be twice as effective in treating type II diabetes than the standard insulin prescription and can save $2250 per person per year when compared to the cost of standard drug treatment.
  • Can decrease depression as effectively as Prozac or behavioral therapy.
  • Adults with better muscle strength have a 20% lower risk of mortality (33% lower risk of cancer specific mortality) than adults with low muscle strength.
  • A low level of fitness is a bigger risk factor for mortality than mild-moderate obesity. It is better to be fit and overweight than unfit with a lower percentage of body fat.