Exercise is beneficial for our health. That’s a general rule we’re all aware of. But could the type of exercise you do have a direct influence on different parts of the brain?

According to an interesting article and research review on Conscious Life News, it very well could.

As an occupational, speech or physical therapist, you may be able to guide patients toward specific exercises that may further aid their condition or recovery.

The Influence of Exercise on Different Parts of the Brain

brain-exercise-diagram The Influence of Exercise on Different Parts of the Brain

Featured Image Credit: Conscious Life News

For years the general exercise recommendations have been to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. But, as you can see from the image above, scientists are discovering that various types of exercises have a very different impact.

Aerobic Activity

Starting with rodent studies and then moving to human studies, aerobic exercise has been shown to boost a protein in the brain that promotes new neuron growth – brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). For people with cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s or dementia, the common exercise prescription of running, walking, cycling still rings true to a certain extent.

But, researchers were curious to take a look at the effects of other exercise formats.

Lifting Weights

Two research studies put dementia patients or those with mild cognitive impairments through three different exercise conditions, walking alone, walking plus weight lifting, or stretching alone (or in one of the studies, no exercise). It turns out they discovered that weight lifting improves complex reasoning, multitasking and problem solving. The participants were sharper and had a greater ability to execute various function tests.

These results extend to healthy adult populations, too. So it appears that walking alone is definitely not enough, particularly for older adults. Researchers believe these effects are due to triggering insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which aids communication between cells and the brain, and decreases inflammatory molecules.

brain-running-700x524 The Influence of Exercise on Different Parts of the Brain

Sports Drills and Structured Exercise

Exercise routines or drills that are structured and focus on specific skills influence the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobe, and cerebellum, which may be particularly beneficial for children with attention issues.

Of course most of us know that exercise improves our physical fitness, but even small gains in fitness levels can dramatically influence attention, focus, ability to execute control over tasks, balance, synchronizing arm and leg movements, and improving performance in tasks.


Apparently comparing the brains of long time yogis and others showed their brains looked like a 25-year-old’s, even though they were well into their 50s. Further to this, there is a body-mind connection that influences the immune system, along with thoughts and emotions. This could be due to the meditation-like effect of yoga. Meditation and concentration have been linked to control over the autonomous nervous system, which controls all functions in the body.

High Intensity Interval Training

In recent years this type of training, also known as HIIT training, has become of interest to researchers as it is becoming clearer that it exerts influence on the hypothalamus, and therefore, hormonal regulation in the body.

One such hormone is the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is responsible for telling us when we are full, it’s involved in appetite regulation. Others include insulin, norepinephrine, cortisol, and reductions in inflammatory molecules.

In a perfect world, perhaps the right combination is a bit of every type of exercise. Though, in reality this is probably unlikely to happen. At least if you’re trying to get better outcomes for yourself or patients, the above guidelines may help point you in the right direction.