The human brain is not characterized as a muscle because of the predominance of white and gray matter in its composition. But even though it is not made completely of muscles, it needs to be exercised constantly; otherwise, it will lose its mass, reducing its capacity. Throughout the times, scientists constantly stated that to exercise the brain, it is necessary to constantly do critical thinking, learn something new, or play an instrument. Although these factors can impact brain growth and the release of chemicals, their effect on its growth and health are minimal in comparison to the impact of physical exercise and sports.
A series of studies conducted by NCBI (National Center of Biotechnology Information) following this theme showcased the occurrence of neuroplasticity following physical exercise, which revealed the increase of gray matter (one of the two types of tissue that compose the brain) in the frontal and hippocampus regions. It also caused the reduction of damaged gray matter on the brain. Furthermore, several essential neurotransmitters are mainly produced by the practice of exercise. They are dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin (hormones that are responsible for our well being and for preventing mental disorders such as depression). Physical exercise is also the most important natural process that causes the production of neurotrophic factors by the brain (biomolecules released by the brain that are responsible the neurogenesis, and the survival and growth of neurons), such as BDNF, that is considered one of the most important substances for brain development. Besides that, the practice of physical exercises also causes an increase of blood flow to the brain, which leads to the improvement of brain activity, and consequently, leads to the improvement of cognitive functioning.
A great amount of evidence gathered by several scientific pieces of research proved how physical exercise improves one's brain's cognitive functioning for long periods right after one exercise. An emerging line of scientific evidence shows that the effects of exercise are longer than expected before, being long-lasting to a point where they can affect one's next generations. This happens because the activity of physical exercise on the epigenetic modulation is responsible for the creation of epigenetic memory, that influences long term brain function and behavior, inducing one's next generations to grow up having better-developed brains.
Mandolesi, Laura, et al. “Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits.” Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers Media S.A., 27 Apr. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934999/.