These 5 Physical Activities Improve Brain Health

Exercises for Brain Health

When it comes to maintaining a healthy, optimally functioning brain, there’s no better habit to form than getting regular physical exercise. Exercise improves the flow of oxygen, blood, and nutrients to the brain, which helps it to function at its best.

Physical exercise also protects the brain against things that can harm it, like high blood sugar levels. A regular exercise routine reduces stress, improves sleep, boosts mood, and supports healthy blood pressure levels.

Aerobic activity boosts neurogenesis, which helps maintain memory and protects against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Among all the types of exercise you can do, here are 5 that support brain health in truly remarkable ways.

Aerobic activity boosts neurogenesis, which helps maintain memory and protects against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Click To Tweet


1. Table Tennis

Of all the brain-boosting sports activities, table tennis reigns supreme. It is highly aerobic and requires tremendous coordination. Japanese researchers first recognized that the game activates as many as 5 separate areas of the brain simultaneously in a clinical study titled, “The Effectiveness of Exercise Intervention on Brain Disease Patients: Utilizing Table Tennis as a Rehabilitation Program.”

The study found that ping-pong players with brain disease showed better brain function and awareness, as well as decreased dementia and depression.

Ping-pong’s aerobic activity increases blood flow to the brain, which is associated with improved cognition, better memory, an increase of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and hippocampus neurogenesis, according to research.

Just last year, preliminary research in Neurology presented on Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and table tennis showed that PD patients demonstrated significant improvements in speech, handwriting, getting dressed, getting out of bed, and walking after a 6-month regimen of regular ping-pong sessions.

Table tennis is now used therapeutically to mediate the effects of neurodegenerative diseases.

Most of these brain health benefits apply to all racquet sports, including popular and fast-moving pickleball, racquetball, and tennis. What’s more, they can be enjoyed by people of every age and have very few instances of brain injury!

2. Swimming

Swimming is an intense aerobic exercise that works the heart and lungs and involves all of the major muscle groups. This makes it a powerful activity for brain health.

As one of the most intense aerobic sports, swimming increases blood flow to the brain, which, as mentioned above, increases neurogenesis in the hippocampus and improves focus, attention, memory, and cognition, as well as triggers the release of endorphins, a well-known hormone known to reduce the perception of pain throughout the body and elevate mood.

Research shows that children with ADHD may benefit from swimming, as exercise can impact the developing brain—particularly aerobic exercise as it promotes neural growth and cognitive development. A 2020 review study examined a growing body of literature that suggests a potential role for physical exercise in the treatment of ADHD as it may reduce ADHD core symptoms as well as improve executive functions.

One recent study found that just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity swimming improved cognitive performance. And a 2021 animal study showed that 7 consecutive days of swimming training results in improved short- and long-term memory benefits.

Of course, swimming is immensely calming and meditative, as the sound of your breathing and the water rushing by brings about an inner focus without outside distractions. It’s an excellent activity to do at any age.

3. Dancing

Dancing boosts brain health in unique ways as it involves coordination, social bonding, and music, which, like table tennis, activate multiple areas of the brain. The music that goes with dance additionally stimulates the brain’s rewards centers, and the social connection has been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms.

Indeed, dancing makes us feel good. It releases feel-good endorphins and increases levels of the hormone serotonin, which reduces stress, and helps us develop new neural connections, improving overall cognitive function. A randomized controlled study that looked at the effects of dance on depression on college students found that a group participating in dance training 3 times a week for 12 weeks showed that depression levels had decreased.

Dance protects our brain from decline. In a cohort study involving more than 450 seniors over the age of 75, it lowered participants’ risk of dementia. While any kind of dance is beneficial, the dances requiring memorization of steps are better for brain power!

4. Yoga

Yoga is universally valued for its calming effects, but it does so much more for the brain. In addition to quieting a busy mind, yoga and other mindful exercises have been found to reduce anxiety and depression, increase focus, improve cognition, and protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

Yoga soothes overactive basal ganglia, reducing anxiety. Research indicates that more active yoga practices followed by relaxing ones lead to deeper relaxation than relaxing practices alone.

Yoga has also been shown to improve cognition. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that participants who practiced 8 weeks of regular yoga had significantly improved performance on the executive function measures of working memory capacity and efficiency of mental set shifting and flexibility compared with a control group that did stretching only.

A 2019 study review published in Brain Plasticity revealed promising early evidence that yoga practice can positively impact brain health.  Looking at 11 yoga studies, the review found that, like aerobic exercise, yoga activates areas of the brain that have trouble as we age, and it may potentially mitigate age-related neurodegenerative decline.

5. Strength training

When you build your muscles through strength training, research shows that you also strengthen your brain health. A review of strength training research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that it is associated with numerous mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety symptoms in healthy adults, improved cognition among older adults, reduced symptoms of depression in those diagnosed with depression, improved self-esteem, and better sleep.

Just last year, a human study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Sydney found that 6 months of strength training followed by 12 months of normal activity can help protect brain areas especially vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.


Any exercise at all benefits the brain but incorporating these brain-boosting physical activities into your life will give you more brain-powered bang for your effort!

Brain and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Think you missed it on those brain exercises walking 🚶‍♂️ 😏 would seem one of the best imop God bless

    Comment by James Reid Ross — November 8, 2021 @ 3:53 AM

  2. Dear Doctor Amen and team,

    So glad to note that my dad instituted 4/5 of these suggested recommendations into his children from early age.

    May we add the following to note the other side of the equation, as well: which exercises to begin to reduce in order to minimize some of the mental and physical brain stresses currently capturing many of our daily lives.

    Reduce the “Dextrose, Finger and Thumb, dopamine activating, yet degenerating cell phone tinkering.”

    Lose that cell phone for the better part of each day! With the additional time available, begin to institute some of the “high quality, nutritional and neuro-stimulating brain exercise.”

    Replace the fast-foods with “the dextrously nimble coordinating tool, the Butcher Knife.” Begin to slice and dice more highly nutritious Vegetables upon the carving board, create a few more delectable dishes, trial a few herbs and spices that haven’t been considered before within the recipe, and exercise that back as you open and close the Oven Door to check-up and smell the devine scents of these exotic and healthy creations.

    Might as well stimulate ALL THE SENSES within the mix.

    Substituting healthy choices to replace the poorly habitual toxins can support both sides of this Brain Equation.

    Making the time really isn’t that much work. Often times, Making the first initial steps equates to one of the most difficult hurdles.

    Cheers! Have a Healthy Day!

    And, Thanks Again, Doc!


    Comment by Alabama.Brian — November 8, 2021 @ 4:50 AM

  3. I was hoping that cycling would be specifically addressed here but I am aware of the benefits. At 73 I ride twice a week approximately 10 miles each time. The time in between allows my ACL to get enough blood flow to feel normal after 24 to 48 hours. I don’t push it hard but I can definitely feel and see the benefits. And your thoughts are most welcome. My company is also on your Referral List. God bless❤

    Comment by D.J. Diebold — November 8, 2021 @ 5:02 AM

  4. So, I’m confused… Is dancing, period, on this list or not? Or must it be qualified? You seem to say NO, just dancing is NOT helpful for brain health.
    Dancing only works for brain health if you are dancing in a group of others. So dancing alone does not work for brain health…is that correct??
    Being in a group of others is helpful by itself, so is dancing without others helpful or not??? You seem to say that I’ve been wasting my time when I’ve been dancing alone for brain health…….?? PLEASE clarify your message.

    Comment by Mic — November 8, 2021 @ 6:27 AM

  5. I walk on my treadmill 4 to 5 times a week for 30 to 35 minutes. I start at a speed of 2.8 and increase every 2 minutes until I reach a speed of 3.5. I am 84 years old and weigh 162 pounds.

    Comment by John C Kappelmeier — November 8, 2021 @ 8:23 AM

  6. What about fishing out of a kayak, or disc golf? Where do those sit with Parkinson’s?

    Comment by Mickeal Hargrove — November 8, 2021 @ 9:37 AM

  7. My one and only comment is Dr G Amen to please start one of his Clinics in UK.

    Comment by Victoria Olafobe Owoeye — November 8, 2021 @ 10:24 AM

  8. Good information. I want to schedule an appointment for a Brain SPECT. Please contact me. Dianne

    Comment by DIANNE GAGLIANO — November 8, 2021 @ 2:27 PM

  9. Thank you for your suggestions.

    Comment by Priscilla Taylor — November 8, 2021 @ 3:13 PM

  10. How many times per week constitutes “regular yoga?”

    Comment by Kiesha maclean — November 9, 2021 @ 6:10 AM

  11. I deeply grateful for Dr A/Tana each/everyday helping me; I visit fb daily; It’s like daily life coach. Just deeply thank u for caring. gratitude, teresa

    Comment by teresa — November 9, 2021 @ 9:25 AM

  12. Although I can’t Exercise like I did before my Accident, I just adapt them to what I AM able to do. I can no longer Swim, but I CAN Walk in the Water & go to Aqua Therapy.

    Comment by Joyce Kysor — November 9, 2021 @ 10:50 AM

  13. I’ve been wanting to play table tennis. But who sells a handicap version, in which the ball and paddle are connected by an elastic cord? This is needed so that a person can play solo, hitting a ball against a wall…without having to go fetch the ball when it lands on the floor.

    Comment by Mariana Tupper — November 9, 2021 @ 1:53 PM

  14. Hello Dianne, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information regarding scheduling an appointment at one of our 9 clinics. We look forward to speaking with you soon

    Comment by Amen Clinics — November 9, 2021 @ 2:19 PM

  15. Have you heard of a program called Ageless Grace? It’s designed to improve brain function. What are your views?

    Comment by Melinda Ossorio — November 9, 2021 @ 6:17 PM

  16. These are all great suggestions. What I have read is that the 2 best things that one can do is to learn new couple dances along with new dance steps and to learn a new foreign language.

    Comment by Michael J Janko — November 16, 2021 @ 6:33 PM

  17. Occasionally we will do short Nidra Yoga. But we prefer QiGong and Tai Chi to Yoga. I hope the benefits are similar.

    Comment by Annabelle — May 6, 2022 @ 3:23 AM

  18. Excellent ideas here on this post! I also ride my bicycle to get exercise.

    Comment by Douglas Morris — May 6, 2022 @ 1:31 PM

  19. Greetings and thank you for the great suggestions here and other emails! I have read Dr. Amen’s books and material for years with my 96 yr. old client who passed in 2016. I have wanted to have a Spect- Scan for years, and now am concerned that I am losing cognition and REALLY want one. Where are your 9 clinics? I am in Cincinnati, OH.

    Comment by Mary M Chitwood — May 8, 2022 @ 1:29 PM

  20. Hello Mary, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you with more information. We currently have 10 clinics nationwide:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — May 9, 2022 @ 5:34 PM

  21. In regards to the comments about yoga and how often to do it. I do yoga twice weekly, which is what I was recommended years ago by a yoga teacher. As for dancing, I do Jazzercise twice weekly as well, and it's a form of dancing that is done in a studio with other enthusiasts, and it's a blast! It's a great workout with upbeat music, plenty of cardio along with strength training and cool-down. The other two days a week I do a cycling class that I feel is definitely good for the brain because it gets your heart rate up, thus increasing blood flow and releasing feel good hormones. I am 66 and this has been part of my life for over 30 years. Thank you Dr. Amen!

    Comment by Ellen Guarisco — July 18, 2022 @ 1:04 PM

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