In the picture a woman is doing push-ups outside in autumnal scenery.

Activate your brain with exercise

We all have moments when thinking is hard, focus is lost, and remembering new things feels difficult. Good news: exercise can help you with these challenges. Physical activity has a positive impact on your brain’s health as well as learning, concentration, creativity and memory. Brisk physical activity that increases your heart rate is good for the heart and the brain. Even light activity makes you feel refreshed and often boosts your brain power.

As soon as we start moving, blood flow increases throughout the body, including the brain. As a result of walking, for example, new neurons and neural connections are created in the brain, and the frontal lobe responsible for demanding thinking functions is activated (Huotilainen, 2021). Regular physical activity strengthens the connections between different regions of the brain; this relieves stress and boosts thinking functions (Hansen, 2018). This is particularly useful for demanding thinking, as stressed people find it difficult to be creative, find solutions to challenges and learn new things. 

If your brain is running in circles, try walking in nature, attending a dancing lesson or break exercises.

You may find new ideas, insights, or solutions while jogging instead of struggling while staring at the computer screen. 

Help with concentration

Do you sometimes focus on anything and everything but the matter at hand? If you said yes, you’re not alone! Physical activity has been found to be a good way to improve concentration, as it increases the concentration of a transmitter called dopamine in the brain (Huotilainen, 2019). The more briskly you move, the more dopamine is produced in the brain after exercise (Hansen, 2018). 
However, physical activity does not always have to be demanding and sweaty; even being active in your everyday life helps. For example, a break in sitting, a brisk walk up the stairs or a short breather while studying or working keeps the brain in a good shape (see e.g., Huotilainen & Saarikivi, 2018).

Exercise shapes the brain 

Training helps you get bigger muscles, but it also modifies your brain.

Studies show that exercise and physical activity increase the malleability of the brain (Hansen, 2018). For example, in a study by Erickson et al. (2011), people who had previously had little exercise started going for brisk walks three times a week. When comparing the results with the baseline after six months and a year, they found that the memory of these people had improved and the brain area essential for memory and learning had expanded. 

Exercise helps you learn

Should I run a marathon to make my brain work? No need. Much shorter exercise sessions are enough. Could you run a little or maybe skip around the block before studying for an exam or performing a demanding task? In fact, bouts of physical activity have produced promising results for learning (see e.g., Winter et al. 2007; Huotilainen, 2019). Of course, the efficacy of exercise must always be proportional to your own level of fitness and state of health in order for training to be safe and meaningful.

If you combine physical activity and learning something new at the same time, you can hit two birds with one stone and enhance your ability to learn (see e.g., Hansen, 2018).

This combination increases the memory capacity of the brain and has a positive impact on learning (Huotilainen, 2019). For example, in a study by Schmidt-Kassow et al. (2013), light physical activity combined with studying enhanced the learning of test subjects. You could try using an exercise bike while reviewing the vocabulary of another language. According to studies, regular physical activity is important for learning (Huotilainen, 2021). Fortunately, there are many forms of exercise, and everyone can find their preferred regular physical activity.

Every step is important

Some of the impacts of physical activity on the brain are immediate, while others require longer-term and regular activity (see Hansen, 2018). The good news is that every step is important, and it is never too late to build a more physically active everyday life.

The main thing is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and which suits you. 

As a personal trainer, I recommend experimenting with different sports and thinking about whether you prefer to exercise alone, with a friend or in a group. For some of us, physical activity may take place as bicycle commuting or everyday activity together with the family and children. If you are stressed and spread thin, you should not strain yourself with hard training, as physical activity is not supposed to put you under pressure or increase your overall workload, but to promote your well-being. If you have enough energy and you feel that you can recover, go ahead!

It is a good idea to gradually build an exercise routine that suits you. This applies both in terms of quantity and efficiency, according to your level of fitness and resources. If you have already found one, congratulations! If you need support in starting exercise or creating an exercise routine that suits you, I will be happy to help you.


Jasmin Kurkaa-Kivelä
Personal trainer, group exercise instructor, psychologist


Hansen, A. (2018). Aivovoimaa – Näin vahvistat aivojasi liikunnalla. Otava.

Huotilainen, M. & Saarikivi, K. (2018). Aivot työssä. Otava.

Huotilainen, M. (2019). Näin aivot oppivat. PS-kustannus.

Huotilainen, M. (2021). Smart Moves -hankkeen videosarjan verkkoluento: Oppiminen tehostuu liikkumalla. Viitattu 21.9.2022.

Erickson, K. I., Voss, M. W., Prakash, R. S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., … & Kramer, A.F. (2011). Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(7), 3017–3022.

Schmidt-Kassow, M., Deusser, M., Thiel, C., Otterbein, S., Montag, C., Reuter, M., Banzer, W., & Kaiser, J. (2013). Physical exercise during encoding improves vocabulary learning in young female adults: A neuroendocrinological study. PloS one, 8(5), e64172-e64172.

Winter, B., Breitenstein, C., Mooren, F. C., Voelker, K., Fobker, M., Lechtermann, A., … & Knecht, S. (2007). High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 87(4), 597–609.