Exercise Smarter, Not Harder: How to Optimize Your Workout for Your Brain and Body

Your body is built to move. Walking, running, and jumping are all made possible by your 640 muscles, 360 joints, and about 4900 tendons and ligaments.

Without movement, your body can become stiff and brittle, so it makes sense that the brain would have mechanisms in place to reward you when you exercise.

In fact, exercise releases feel-good endorphins and improves cognition, memory, and mood. Exercise also reduces your risk of diseases such as stroke, diabetes, and heart disease (to name a few).

One study of 10,269 men revealed that consistent, moderate exercise – such as tennis, racquetball, jogging or running – reduced their risk of death from all causes by 44 percent!

Exercise is great for you in practically every way imaginable.

But here’s the thing, it’s not any old workout that makes your brain sharper and your body healthier – different types of exercises that have different types of benefits.

With that in mind, let’s look at how workouts benefit your brain and body.

Boost your brain power & vitality

Studies have shown that exercising for 30 to 45 minutes at a time is the best duration for improved mental health. Additionally, studies have identified a basic outline of exercises that are best for your brain and body, including:

  • Type: Exercises should be both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities.
  • Duration: Ideal exercise duration is 30 minutes a day.
  • Intensity: Exercise intensity should be at least moderate (brisk walking), though moderate to vigorous intensity is better (jogging).
  • Frequency: It’s best if you exercise every day.

These basic guidelines are not meant to overwhelm you! If you miss a day of working out, don’t beat yourself up over it. What’s more important is that you get back on it, quickly.

Often, people get down on themselves and end up not exercising altogether because they think what they are doing isn’t enough.

You only need 10 minutes…

I can’t stress this enough – taking a 10-minute walk is better than nothing.

Even 10 minutes of daily, moderate exercise has shown to improve mood, help with relaxation and overall health.

And if a lack of time is why you aren’t working out regularly, I have more good news – one study suggests that interval training for only 10 minutes a day can be as beneficial as 45 minutes of low-intensity, continuous cycling.

And you don’t need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger…

If it’s not time that’s holding you back – maybe you’re intimidated by tough workouts or have some physical limitations – but multiple studies have shown that simply walking improves overall health.

In one study of adults ages 60 to 88 in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, revealed that walking for 30 minutes – only four days a week – had protective effects on cognition and slowed further cognitive decline.

Another study of people suffering from severe depression, found that simply walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes each day – for only 10 consecutive days – showed a “statistically significant reduction in depression.”

There’s no question that exercise has a myriad benefits for both the brain and the body – even if you have limited time and physical ability.

If you’re interested in pushing beyond minimal exercises, you’ll find that you can improve your mood, cognition, and even shape your body to fit personal preferences.

Here’s what science says about different types of exercise and which you should do, depending on your goals.

Resistance training for a clearer mind, better mood, and a stronger physique

Resistance training or strength training is any type of exercise that engages your muscles against a force, this can include weight lifting, Pilates, resistance band workouts or bodyweight exercises. Typically, resistance training is more intense and shorter than cardio.

The major benefit of resistance training, are that the exercises make your muscles draw energy from your ATP stores, which is a powerful type of stress that’s actually good for you.

Some of the benefits of resistance training include:

  • A 2010 report of controlled and randomized studies revealed that strength training boosts cognition, memory, and decreases anxiety and fatigue, all while making you happier.
  • Strength training causes a boost in testosterone and human growth hormone (up to 200 to 700 percent) in both men and women. These boosts promote fat loss, muscle growth, and improve mood.
  • Resistance training has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and increase your metabolic rate, meaning you’ll burn fat even when you aren’t working out.
  • Sometimes women avoid resistance training for fear of developing too much muscle and instead opt for only cardio exercises, but that’s a big mistake. Both men and women should incorporate strength training in their workout routine because of the numerous benefits.
  • Cardio exercise for a smarter, happier, and leaner you

Resistance training relies on short bursts of energy from your muscles and ATP stores. While cardio – like running or biking – causes you to breath heavily, which impacts your aerobic system, strengthens your endurance, and brings different benefits with it.

Some of the benefits of cardio training include:

  • Studies have found that cardio exercise makes you happier and even more creative [PDF]. We’ve all heard of a runner’s high and it’s a very real phenomenon – when you push yourself aerobically your brain releases happy endorphins.
  • Cardio also makes you smarter. When you’re running or biking, you get a release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is an important protein your body needs when it’s learning and for a healthy memory. BDNF also promotes new brain cell growth and protects you from brain damage.
  • Endurance training also causes weight loss (faster than strength training) and strengthens your lungs.

The Bottom Line

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. Today. Right now.

I want to encourage you to try to do something physically active every single day. It’s best not to overwhelm yourself if you can’t get a workout in that sweet spot of 30 to 45 minutes of exercise, at the very least try to do some sort of exercise for 10 minutes.

You can go on a simple walk or lift weights like a bodybuilder, depending on your health goals. Either way, if you increase your workouts, you will experience the direct impact they have on your mind and body – and you’ll be surprised at just how fast you can reap the benefits.


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