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Health and Medical


The benefits of PHYSICAL TRAINING activity on the body are well known. Do you know, however, that by being physically active, you also have the power to influence the development and functioning of your brain, in short, to improve your cognitive functions? These allow us to communicate, perceive our environment, concentrate, remember an event, or accumulate knowledge.


Numerous studies in animals and humans have demonstrated that physical exercise produces positive changes in the plasticity of the brain, which has the effect of improving cognitive and cerebrovascular functions. Here is what some research says on the subject:

In the short term, a period of 11 to 20 minutes of physical activity induces an acute improvement in executive functions, attention, speed of information processing, and memory. (Erickson et al., 2019)

The most noticeable changes in cognition and brain structure are seen in 6 to 13-year-olds and adults over 50 following moderate to vigorous-intensity activity. (Erickson et al., 2019)

A study carried out on men aged 18 to 33 with ADHD therapist near me (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) showed that a 20-minute session of cycling carried out at a medium intensity made it possible to increase the energy level, motivation for mental work in addition to reducing the feeling of confusion, fatigue, and depression (Fritz and O’Conner, 2016).

Exercise can help prevent and slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. A meta-analysis including more than 33,000 participants evaluated a reduction in the risk of cognitive decline of 38% in the most physically active (Sofi et al., 2011).

To better understand how physical activity can impact our cognitive functions, here are some well-studied mechanisms. It should be noted that the mechanisms by which exercise affects the brain are numerous. And not all well understood, particularly in humans. Their functioning will also vary according to age and state of transformation health.


During physical activity, there is an increase in the circulation of neurotrophic factors (or BDNF in English. Or Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor) and circulatory growth factors (or IGF-1 for Insulin-like Growth Factor). These factors are in fact molecules that allow the growth and proliferation of new neurons and synapses as well as the creation of blood vessels. They are involved in brain development during childhood. In adulthood, these molecules, which are more numerous in an active person, contribute to maintaining the plasticity of the brain. This plasticity can be very important for learning new things or during recovery from brain damage.

Another phenomenon is the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These, when released, have an impact on several brain functions, emotions, and general states.


Changes at the cellular and molecular level bring structural and functional changes, among these, the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus and the increase in its volume are elements that play in the improvement of cognition. The hippocampus is a brain structure involved in learning and memory. It is very susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and premature aging. With regular physical activity, this region of the brain becomes more resilient to the changes imposed by age.

There is also an improvement in blood circulation to the brain during physical activity. Good circulation is necessary to bring oxygen and nutrients to the brain and thus ensure optimal functioning of the latter.


In patients with depressive symptoms, there is an improvement in mood with physical activity which leads to an improvement in cognitive functions. A virtuous loop can set in since the improvement in cognitive functions, following physical activity, can also contribute to improving mood.

Finally, physical activity can help improve sleep quality. It can contribute indirectly to the improvement of cognitive functions since the quality and duration of sleep play an important role in the processes of learning and memory consolidation, key elements of our cognitive functions.


As you will have understood, training, although physical, can also “muscle” your brain. Is it possible that Juvenal, the first-century BC Roman poet, to whom we owe the phrase “a sound mind in a sound body,” honed his cognitive functions by training before coining this maxim? Who knows?

Certainly, although most work on the neuroprotective effects of physical activity has investigated the effects of aerobic training, more recent research suggests that resistance training and coordination activities may also contribute positively to brain health. The ideal would therefore be to combine these three training methods. For now, if you follow the recommendations of the Canadian Physiological Society (see below), you’ve already come a long way.

We leave you with a little idea to test. Before an upcoming business meeting, an important meeting, do a workout. Will you be more insightful? Sharper? More sagacious? We are waiting for your news!

If the subject interests you, if you want to learn more, I suggest reading the book Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the Brain or watching the TED talk: The brain-changing benefits of exercise by Wendy Suzuki.


The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology generally recommends that adults (18-64 years). Engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Two strength-training sessions, and several hours of light-intensity physical activity, including periods of standing. She mentions in passing that replacing sedentary behavior with more physical activity. And replacing low-intensity physical activity with more moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity while maintaining sufficient sleep time. Will still result in more health benefits.

The CSEP guidelines were updated in October 2020 with sleep and sedentary approach. The recommendations are suitable for four age groups: children 0-4 years old. Children 5-17 years old, adults 18-64 years old, and adults 65 years old and over. For an overview of this update, the following article on the Radio-Canada website is interesting:

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