The Cognitive Benefits of Exercise

We know exercise is good for us, but do we know how good? For most, the aim of hopping on a bike or treadmill is to improve overall health and lose some weight. And while exercise can certainly help people gain muscle and help prevent a countless list of diseases, recent studies (such as this study and this study) suggest that the benefits of exercise are not just physical, but also cognitive. That is, exercise not only impacts how we look and feel but also how we think. Some cognitive benefits to consider include:

Increased Awareness, Concentration and Productivity
  • Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can help increase awareness and concentration.
  • Exercise helps maximize productivity. According to a recent study, those participants who exercised on a given workday were twenty-three percent more productive on that day than on days when they did not exercise.

Neurological Benefits


  • Exercise – and cardiovascular exercise in particular – increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning.
  • Cardiovascular exercise also causes the brain to release brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that enhances one’s ability to solve problems, formulate arguments and develop strategies.

Improved Mental Health and Lower Levels of Stress


  • Exercise signals the release of hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which can lower stress, minimize the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve overall mood.

Given these benefits, it might be time to start thinking of working out as another aspect of work – that is, not just as a personal choice that cuts into time otherwise spent at the office, but as something that directly contributes to overall professional success.


Brooke Fodor is an associate in Debevoise’s New York office.

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