Exercise and Your Brain

The vital connection between an active lifestyle and mental wellbeing

Contributed by Dr Gary Small, Behavioral Health Physician-in-Chief, Hovnanian Endowed Chair in Behavioral Health, Hackensack Meridian Health | Chair of Psychiatry, Hackensack University Medical Center | New York Times Best Selling Author, M.D. – Member, Nutrition Advisory Board, Herbalife Nutrition.


We all know that active living can help us become fitter. But what some of us don’t know is that those who lead a more active lifestyle can achieve better mental wellbeing while those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle may experience an increased risk of chronic physical and mental conditions.

According to a study by the Institute of Mental Health, about one in seven Singaporeans have experienced a mood or anxiety disorder at some point of their lives. And based on one of Herbalife’s survey – APAC Personal Habits Survey, due to the pandemic, 53% of Singapore consumers became less active and 43% admitted that worries and anxieties were among the top reasons that made them feel unmotivated to exercise.

So, what is the connection between exercise, the brain and mental health?

The positive effects of an active lifestyle on brain health

Being physically active can improve your brain health which can help you improve and sharpen your judgement, thinking and learning skills. This is because physical activity increases blood flow to your brain, exposing you to more oxygen and nutrients which improves memory and thinking skills.

According to a study, people who exercise a few times a week have experienced improvements in their memory. Exercise can help keep your brain cells healthy, and promote the growth of new cells, improving your overall brain health.

Moreover, regular exercise can give you better sleep at night as physical activity tires the body and helps you fall asleep faster, improving your sleep quality. Exercise also promotes deep sleep phases which can boost your immune system, cardiac health, and muscle repair and regeneration. With better sleep, you can experience improvements in creativity and brain function.

The positive effects of an active lifestyle on our mental health

1. Stress relief

Exercise can reduce the negative effects of daily stress as it provides stress relief for your body. Physical activity can also reduce overall levels of tension and stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Furthermore, physical activity can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. One vigorous exercise session can also help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.

2. Mood improvement

Single sessions of exercise can also improve your mood, help you relax, and reduce focusing on worries or negative thoughts. This is because exercise leads to the production of endorphins, our brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, after an exercise session.

3. Increased motivation and social support

As most people experience good feelings after exercise, they resolve to do more. Exercising in groups or classes may also bring about much needed social support to motivate individuals as they are able to encourage each other or share knowledge from their personal journeys. Nurturing a strong community that you can rely on for the good and the bad is essential to feeling supported and loved.

An active lifestyle begins with you

Studies have shown that people who get regular cardiovascular conditioning (enhancement of heart and circulatory function produced by regular vigorous aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, or cycling.) have larger parietal, temporal, and frontal brain areas, which is associated with stronger cognitive performance. All in all, maintaining an active lifestyle can lead to better brain health and overall mental wellbeing. Take time off your schedule and start getting active today!

Images: Herbalife Singapore (header) and Envato

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