Ross Edgely


Written by

Team PhD

10 Min

Physical exercise has long been celebrated for its positive effects on physical health, but its impact on mental and brain health is equally significant and increasingly recognised. We often hear this and deep down if you’re a regular exerciser you’ll resonate with that euphoric feeling you get after a workout, but rarely do we understand the reasons why this is. Regular exercise offers an array of benefits that extend beyond the realm of physical fitness. Did you know that at least 80% of your grey matter volume is modifiable through physical exercise? In this article, we will explore the profound influence of exercise on mental and brain health, covering various forms of exercise, including aerobic and resistance training and the intricate mechanisms behind these benefits, such as myokines, and the neuroprotective properties of exercise. Furthermore, we will discuss how exercise can contribute to brain longevity, promoting cognitive health as individuals age which in turn also has an impact on our mental health.

Aerobic Training: Boosting Mood, Cognition, and Neuroprotection

Aerobic training, often referred to as cardio exercise, involves activities that increase your heart rate and breathing, such as running, swimming, or cycling. One of the most well-documented benefits of aerobic training is its impact on mood. When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. These endorphins create a feeling of euphoria and reduce stress and anxiety, providing an immediate mental boost.

Moreover, aerobic training has a profound impact on cognitive function and neuroprotection. Regular cardio exercise enhances blood flow to the brain, promoting the growth of new synapses and improving communication across brain networks. This happens because when we engage in aerobic exercise, we release a molecule called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which promotes cell survival and synaptic integrity. This results in better memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. BDNF has been extensively researched and proposed to play a role in reducing the risk of cognitive decline in older adults, potentially delaying the onset of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. BDNF also appears to be implicated in psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder. The neuroprotective properties of aerobic exercise extend to reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline. Exercise also provides a potential therapeutic intervention for depression.

Supplements such as MIND or RELAX may provide additional neuroprotective mechanisms which can synergistically work with exercise to provide neuroprotection and cognitive & mood enhancement.

Resistance Training: Strength for the Mind and Brain

Resistance training, often involving weightlifting, is typically associated with building muscle strength. However, its benefits extend to mental health and brain longevity. The mechanistic movement of contracting our muscles under tension, reportedly at around 70%, releases a group of muscle-based proteins called myokines. These myokines communicate with the brain; we call this pathway of communication between the muscles and the brain, the muscle-brain axis.

Insulin growth-like factor 1 (IGF-1) is a protein essential in maintaining muscle mass and function that is secreted by the liver but also as a myokine. Decreased IGF-1 has been observed in muscle atrophy and was also noted to be essential for brain function. Studies show that IGF-1 deficiency induced cognitive impairment during ageing both in human and rodent models.

There are many myokines and we can discuss these extensively all day, but the take-home message here is that these muscle-based proteins represent the intricate interplay between the skeletal muscles and the brain, with profound effects on movement, metabolism, cognitive function, and overall well-being. We also start to understand why exercise that challenges the muscles and promotes strength can lead to better neural connectivity and increased brain volume. These changes can help mitigate the effects of ageing on the brain, preserving cognitive function and promoting brain longevity.

Another myokine of interest is irisin, which influences the brain’s reward centre. Irisin can help regulate mood and motivation, contributing to feelings of well-being and combating symptoms of depression. The discovery of these myokines has deepened our understanding of the intricate relationship between physical activity and mental health.

Practicing mindfulness and stress reduction techniques are all valuable ways to nurture and maintain good mental health

Ross Edgley

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Written by
Team PhD
Team PhD
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