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Want to get smarter and feel better? Try exercise!

According to a 2017 review article in the Journal of Brain Plasticity (reference below), so called ‘chronic exercise’, what we would call regular exercise, is just a series of linked individual exercise sessions. The authors of this study hoped to better understand the positive cognitive, mood and memory effects of a single acute bout of exercise as a way of understanding the benefits of regular repeated exercise. Although the review was challenging because of the wide range of different types of exercise studied, they did find the following results consistently across the studies:

  • Cognition improved in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain used for planning, decision making, personality and social behavior
  • Mood state was enhanced and
  • Stress levels went down

How much exercise did the subjects do to experience these effects and how long did the benefits last from a single episode of exercise?

  • 50 minutes of cycling (plus a 5′ warm-up and cool-down) produced 120 minutes of improved cognition in the prefrontal cortex
  • A range of exercises from 7 to 75 minutes produced 24 hours of improved mood
  • 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise decreased negative mood states for 24 hours
  • 1-2 hours of cycling at 50-55% VO2 max produced 24 hours of stress reduction

Although these methods were proven to be effective, there were many other types of exercise tested that had at least some benefit. As I’ve said about rehab exercises and home equipment in the past, the best protocol for cognition, mood enhancement and stress reduction is the one you are most likely to do again. Try to find something you enjoy, something that is relatively easy to access (like a walk around the block or some basic exercises you can do in your family room), and stick to it. Even better, enlist a friend or family member to exercise with you. After all, they might enjoy the benefits of better cognition, mood and memory too!

to your health,

Burke Selbst PT


Basso JC, Suzuki WA. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plast. 2017 Mar 28;2(2):127-152. doi: 10.3233/BPL-160040. PMID: 29765853; PMCID: PMC5928534.


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Other Staff PT

doer of amazing things

Burke Selbst PT OCS gcfp

Lover of all things movement. Inspired by success stories great and small and coming back stronger.

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