Research indicates that cognition is impacted by physical activity. The images above represent the work of Dr. Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led a brain-imaging study published in the journal Neuroscience, focusing on the relationship between physical activity and children’s attention, memory, and academic performance. 

BRAIN HEALTH can be defined in many ways, but the guidelines focuses on the following areas: 

  • YOUTH: Brain Maturation And Development And Academic Achievement. 
  • OLDER ADULTS: Dementia And Cognitive Impairment.
  • ACROSS THE LIFESPAN: Cognition, Anxiety And Depression, Quality Of Life, And Sleep.

With The Help Of Neuroimaging, We’re Learning That Physical Activity And Academic Achievement:

  • Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior).
  • Early physical activity experiences may shape the brain and its functions. 
  • Higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved brain health and cognitive performance (e.g., concentration, memory) among students.

There is also a report, produced by National Dairy Council, in partnership with GENYOUth Foundation, American College of Sports Medicine, and American School Health Association, highlights that improved nutrition and physical activity can help lead to better academic performance. This report serves as a launch pad to ignite the conversation about how all sectors of society can work together to create an atmosphere where children have the knowledge, options, and opportunities to help them reach their full potential.

Some of the benefits of physical activity on brain health occur immediately after a session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (acute effect), such as improved thinking or cognition for children 6 to 13 years of age and reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults, reduced feelings of state anxiety (short-term anxiety), improved sleep, and improved aspects of cognitive function. 

With regular physical activity (habitual effect), you can reduce your risk of depression, improvements are seen in trait anxiety (long-term anxiety), deep sleep, and components of executive function (including the ability to plan and organize; monitor, inhibit, or facilitate behaviors; initiate tasks; and control emotions).

Endorphins released during exercise may help to improve various brain systems necessary to overcome social anxiety disorder. For example, endorphins released during exercise may help with neurogenesis or new brain growth. Although speculative, this could lead to increased capacities, such as better clarity of thinking and an improved view of the outside world. Exercise may also stimulate better attention, which we already know may be important for those who tend to look away in social situations.

Research shows that regular moderate intensity exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with learning and memory.


Exercise also leads to improved motor skills (such as hand-eye co-ordination), better thinking and problem-solving, stronger attention skills, and improved learning. Not surprisingly, these all combine to benefit school performance.


Exercise can also be used to enhance well-being in people who already feel mentally healthy. Increased physical activity has been found to enhance mood, improve energy levels, and promote quality sleep.


  • EXERCISE DECREASES STRESS HORMONES. Exercise decreases stress hormones like cortisol. It also increases endorphins—your body's ‘feel-good’ chemicals—giving your mood a natural boost.
  • PHYSICAL ACTIVITY DISTRACTS YOU FROM NEGATIVE THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS. Physical activity can take your mind off of your problems and either redirect it on the activity at hand or get you into a zen-like state.
  • EXERCISE PROMOTES CONFIDENCE. Exercise can help you lose weight, tone your body, and maintain a healthy glow and a smile.6 You may feel a subtle but significant boost in your mood as your clothes look more flattering and you project an aura of increased strength.
  • EXERCISE CAN BE A GOOD SOURCE OF SOCIAL SUPPORT. The benefits of social support are well-documented and many physical activities can be social activities as well. So whether you join an exercise class or you play softball in a league, exercising with others can give you a double-dose of stress relief.
  • BETTER PHYSICAL HEALTH MAY MEAN BETTER MENTAL HEALTH. While stress can cause illness, illness can also cause stress. Improving your overall health and longevity with exercise can save you a great deal of stress in the short run (by strengthening your immunity to colds, the flu, and other minor illnesses) and the long run (by helping you stay healthier longer, and enjoy life more because of it). 
  • EXERCISE PROVIDES A BUFFER AGAINST STRESS. Physical activity may be linked to lower physiological reactivity toward stress. Simply put, those who get more exercise may become less affected by the stress they face. So, in addition to all the other benefits, exercise may supply some immunity toward future stress as well as a way to cope with current stress.