Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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Neurological Benefits of Aerobic Exercise


By Ted Chapin, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Board Certified in Neurotherapy


Clients with significant and unresolved cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems are those who seek neurofeedback assessment and training at the Neurotherapy Institute of Central Illinois. They have usually tried medication and counseling but these have not been sufficient to reduce or resolve their symptoms. Their underlying neurological dysregulation is so severe and so chronic that they need neurofeedback to retrain their brain to function in more normal ways. Neurofeedback uses simple principles of reinforcement to guide the brain in reducing brainwave over-activation, increasing brainwave under-activation, or enhancing brainwave network communication across the brain.

Before neurofeedback training begins, all clients receive an individualized assessment and neurofeedback treatment plan. This plan sets out a number of interventions that have been found to help re-regulate the brain’s healthy brainwave functioning. One of the most common recommendations is to engage in 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise (AE). This article will briefly describe the neurological benefits of AE and encourage readers to begin their own AE program.

The neurological benefits of AE are many. AE increases levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter involved in activating memory and learning. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. It is responsible for maintaining states of calm recovery, our natural, normal, and healthy state of functioning.

AE also improves cognitive functioning. It enhances memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. These are necessary to activate and de-activate attentional processing. They help us focus, learn, rest, and refocus. The smoother the brain can respond, engage, and disengage, the more it is able to handle the complex challenges of daily living.

AE help us maintain emotional balance. It has been found to reduce anxiety and depression. Research has demonstrated that AE is as effective as antidepressant medication in managing the symptoms of depression. It also boosts “feel-good” endorphins and can distract you from daily stress and worry.

AE helps prevent cognitive decline. It increases alertness and energy. It also enhances self-esteem, self-confidence, and social interaction. When done with others, the positive effects of AE increase beyond the benefits of exercising alone. This promotes your brain’s release of oxytocin, dopamine, serotonins, and other “feel-good” endorphins.

Research has further found that AE increases blood flow to the brain and the body. This decreases the effects of inflammation, an indication of disease and the body’s effort at healing it, improves physiological health, and helps regulate sleep. Increased blood flow throughout the body and the brain means that vital oxygen supply, hormonal signaling, and body waste management can be optimized. More specifically, AE has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Finally, AE activates brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). BDNF repairs brain cells, strengthens synaptic connections, makes new brain cells, and increases the size of the hippocampus to enhance memory and learning. BDNF acts like Miracle Grow for the brain. It is released only through vigorous exercise when your heart rate is elevated. Twenty minutes of AE a day is sufficient to release BDNF. It is a way to replenish damaged neurons and significantly improve neurological functioning.

Aerobic exercise (AE) is the cheapest and easiest way to get and keep your brain in “Tip-top” condition. It can involve walking, cycling, running or swimming. Partnering with a friend can better ensure you maintain a consistent exercise routine. Exercising outdoors, in the sunlight also enhances the body’s production of vitamin D3 and melatonin. These are important in managing day/night circadian rhythm cycles and promoting deeper, recovering sleep. In the winter months, a treadmill, treadmill desk, or stationary bicycle is a great investment to maintain your exercise routine.


If you or someone you know is struggling with significant cognitive, emotional, or behavioral problems that counseling and medication have not sufficiently addressed, call Dr. Ted Chapin at the Neurotherapy Institute of Central Illinois (309 681-5850) for a free, no obligation, confidential consultation.