How Does Exercise Impact Brain Function and Mood?

How Does Exercise Impact Brain Function and Mood?

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It requires a constant supply of nutrients, oxygen, and blood flow to carry out the many instantaneous actions it makes every moment of every day. What’s one of the best ways to increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain? Exercise.1

Positive Effects of Exercise

According to a 2017 review, studies over the years have shown that there are three key positive effects of exercise on the brain:2

  1. Improved thinking and learning especially with tasks that depend on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates thoughts, actions, and emotions.
  2. Enhanced mood.
  3. Decreased stress levels.

One significant way exercise helps support stress and an optimistic mood is because it has a balancing effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is the main stress response system in the human body.3

From a mood standpoint, a 2020 analysis of 30 studies found that exercise helped improve depression issues in children and adolescents.4 On average the exercise sessions were about 40 minutes and took place three times a week.

A massive 2023 analysis of 97 different scientific reviews featuring more than 128,000 participants concluded that physical activity is “highly beneficial” to mental health in a wide range of adult populations including the general population, as well as those experiencing mental health issues.5

Beneficial Effects of Exercise on the Brain

The positive health effects of exercise on the brain cannot be overstated. Research is clear that in addition to the positive effects on physical health, there are many beneficial effects of exercise on the brain and mood as well.5

Now that spring has sprung, consider exercising outdoors whenever possible for even more mental health benefits. A 2022 review of 22 different studies found that physical activity done outdoors was beneficial for a range of psychological issues.6

So get outside, get some sun and enjoy the benefits of exercise for brain and mood. Follow @zhou_nutrition for more fitness and wellness tips!


  1. Mandolesi L, Polervino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of physical exercise on cognitive function and wellbeing: biological and psychological benefits. Front Psychol. 2018;9.
  2. Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The effects of acute exercise on mood, cognition, neurophysiology, and neurochemical pathways: a review. Brain Plast. 2017;2(2):127-152.
  3. Mahindru A, Patil P, Agrawal V. Role of physical activity on mental health and well-being: a review. Cureus. 2023;15(1).
  4. Wegner M, Amatrianin-Fernandez S, Kaulitzky A, et al. Systematic review of meta-analysis: exercise effects on depression in children and adolescents. Front Psychiatry. 2020;11:81.
  5. Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2023;57.
  6. Wicks C, Barton J, Orbell S, Andrews L. Psychological benefits of outdoor physical activity in natural versus urban environments: a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies. Health and Well-Being. 2022;14(3).