Physical Activity Benefits: Cognitive Health

In the time it takes to read this sentence, one person will be diagnosed with dementia. With one new case of dementia being detected every four seconds, the number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated to rise to 115 million by the year 2050. Protecting your cognitive health is a key factor in improving your overall wellbeing. Recent studies have shown that physical activity has a positive effect on thinking and memory for people of all ages.

According to a post on Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog, exercise impacts cognitive function both directly and indirectly. Reduced insulin resistance, reduced inflammation, new blood cell growth, and increased release of growth factors in the brain are all areas that are directly impacted by exercise. Indirectly, exercise benefits brain function by decreasing stress and improving a person’s overall mood and quality of sleep.

Studies have shown that aerobic exercise is the most beneficial for brain health. In a review of trials focused on physical activity and its benefits for children, the Centers for Disease Control determined that aerobic physical activity “is positively associated with cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and psychosocial functioning outcomes.” Of particular note was the finding that substituting time spent on other lessons in the classroom for time spent on physical activity had a positive impact on students’ academic performance. This suggests that, in order to prepare our children for academic success, we need to provide them with adequate space and time to participate in physical activity.

Aerobic exercise has significant benefits for adults as well. A 2014 study showed that an individual’s cardiorespiratory fitness as a young adult continued to influence their cognitive abilities into middle age. Another study conducted in 2014 indicated that middle-aged people who engage in at least two days of physical activity per week have a lower risk of developing dementia than their less active peers. From these studies, we can see that no matter your age, physical activity has a significant positive effect on our cognitive health.


To learn more about the impact physical activity has on the brain, check out these articles.

Harvard Medical School Health Blog –

Psychology Today –

Centers for Disease Control –

National Institute of Health –

New York Times –