How Exercise, Nutrition, and Spirituality Affect the Brain and Vice Versa


Decades of scientific studies have revealed profound insights on the link between brainpower and a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition and fitness are absolutely essential to increased brain function.

“Albert Einstein and the brilliant mathematician Kurt Gödel understood the intimate connection between exercise and intellect. The two would often take long walks together discussing complex logical or mathematical dilemmas. Their brains worked best when their bodies were moving.” HFR founder Samir Becic.

So in order to perform at your highest level in work or school, you should make time to workout. Read on to see how exercise, nutrition, spirituality affect the brain and vice versa.

               Key: italics print is vice versa


  • A study by Harvard shows that exercise alters the brain so much that it protects the memory and thinking process, and regular aerobic activity boosts the size of the hippocampus. The research suggested 120+ minutes of activity weekly is optimal.
  • A study by UT Dallas found that “aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging,” and could be one of the most cost-effective therapies available. Exercise has also been shown to promote your brain’s ability to enhance your memory. A combination of physical and mental exercises could be the most effective way to improve overall brain health.  
  • An article by Psychology Today found that “increased blood flow leads to improved cerebrovascular health, release of neurotrophic factors like BDNF that stimulate neuron growth, and glucose and lipid metabolism that brings nourishment to the brain”.
  • This just in from the Washington Post: exercise helps prevent damage to the insulin system as well as plaque build-up; it regulates brain signaling. “Time on a treadmill or bicycle is akin to taking a mix of Prozac and Ritalin,” because the neurotransmitters released through exercise are the same chemicals that anti-depressants and ADHD medicines activate.  
  • A study by the University of Chicago found that “regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress”.
  • According to a team at Princeton: exercise reorganizes our brains so that the response to stress is reduced and that anxiety will have a lower likelihood to disrupt regular brain function.
  • A study at Harvard  shows that dance activates sensory and motor circuits, altering the brain with memory improvement with strengthened neuronal connections.
  • An article by Time Magazine reported, “that people who exercised less showed sharper declines in their cognitive scores than people who were more active. The drops were equivalent to the declines found during normal aging over about 10 years, they concluded.”
  • Get uncomfortable! Harvard confirms that by trying new things (like a new exercise regime) and traveling you are challenging your brain and mental skills and building new ones. “Aerobic exercise increases oxygen supply to the brain,” Dr. Fabiny says. “The data show that this is at least in part how exercise can potentially stave off cognitive impairment.”
  • Time Magazine reports that exercise is linked to larger amounts of grey matter in the brain, as well as more brain mass in general.
  • A professor at NYU has confirms that your brain produces dopamine while you work-out- intentional exercise (when you pair your exercise with a positive intention) does this to an even higher degree. Because of this, your brain actually can create a minor addiction to exercise, prompting you to continue working out.
  • A study at the University Wisconsin Madison shows that some creatures have a craving for exercise. By denying the rats in the experiment access to their running wheels, the brain activity in mice increased by 16-25%, indicating they were agitated by this upset in their routine- like what you would see if an addict was denied their fix.



  • Researchers at Harvard believe caffeine and healthy diet may boost memory, thinking, skills. Here is the reasoning behind this: caffeine is a brain stimulant that blocks the receptors for a chemical called adenosine- whose sole purpose is to prevent the release of excitatory brain chemicals. In doing so, caffeine allows the excitatory brain chemicals to flow more freely, meaning your brain gets to function better. Simply put: the more nutrients you take in, the better your memory is.
  • According to Harvard, your digestive tract produces 95% of your body’s serotonin: it is crucial that you monitor how your diet and certain foods make you feel; if your food isn’t satisfying, your brain will actually perform at a lower level than it would have if your diet was more wholesome in nutrients. Lower levels of serotonin translate to you being in a less happy mood- which also impacts how you function.
  • Fasting and  Dietary Restriction promote distinct neural precursor cell growth and the number of newly generated cells in the hippocampus increase. This practice actually enhances neurogenesis.
  • Less sugar is better. A UCLA study found that a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain by hindering memory and learning. Over time, insulin may no longer affect brain cells; this is troubling because insulin regulates how these cells store and use sugars.  
  • The Mediterranean diet is onto something. Columbia’s Yian Gu conducted a study that showed that sticking to the Mediterranean diet led to 5 fewer years of brain shrinkage. Consuming more fish and less meat is associated with higher total gray matter volume and total brain volume overall.
  • Increase intake of Vitamin D. Too little vitamin D can contribute to a faster cognitive decline in older adults; this leads to a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • Chocolate: Chocolate is closely associated with a gross improvement of brain function that includes, “visual-spatial memory and [organization], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination”. These improvements translate into improved daily tasks such as multitasking and remembering something your boss said in passing but also happens to be significant.
  • Glucose is our main fuel, and how we choose to take in that compound determines how productive and attentive we are. Doughnuts and whole grain oats both contain it, but the glycemic index of the oats is much higher and therefore by eating the oats, your brain is more alert and attentive for longer.

How does your brain affect nutrition?  

  • Non-GMO foods really are better. GMO’s have been researched to contain toxic chemicals to humans. Bt protein found in most GMO’s, the protein is Crylab found in maternal and fetal blood and also used as a pesticide.
  • WHY STRESS CAUSES PEOPLE TO OVEREAT (as told by harvard). Long-term stress causes the brain to signal the release of cortisol- a chemical that increases appetite: Harvard confirms that, “emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both.” They believe that when paired with high levels of insulin, high cortisol levels are the cause.
  • According to Brian Wansink- director of Cornell’s food lab- our brain is prone to choosing the foods that are most convenient to access (in the pantry and otherwise), therefore by placing healthier things in more convenient and first on the shelf makes your brain more likely to choose them.
  • Dartmouth research shows that mood can affect our food choices. Macht conducted a study that monitored what people ate depending on their moods. They found that when people were angry they consumed more comfort foods and were more likely to display impulsive eating. Another study showed that sad people eat more junk food.  
  • Dartmouth also believes that cognitive factors also play a role: one example of this would be found in a group of dieters; when “ asked to eat foods high in calories, they might experience anxiety and other negative emotions because they are afraid of gaining weight”. Our learned food appetites also affect our experience of food
  • Facts about Food cravings:  Cravings are caused by specific environmental cues. They can be caused by a lack of nutrients in your diet. By maintaining a food journal you can potentially tamp down your cravings. Emotional cravings cause you to desire fatty and sugary foods


  • Dr. Newberg postulates that the brain is designed to have a transcendent experience easily. This could provide an answer as to why there is some form of religion in every culture; spirituality could be one of humanity’s defining characteristics. 
  • Researchers at Harvard Medical School have confirmed that after an 8-week meditation training program, there were noticeable changes in brain composition, particularly in the amygdala (a region associated with emotion), even while the patient wasn’t actively meditating. “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.”
  • A study on meditation’s effects found that those who were properly instructed on meditation showed evidence of being more equipped to handle stress.
  • Meditation cultivates our personal ability to self-regulate and our capacity to respond to a situation flexibly. It also increases our ability  to deal with stress and become more resilient towards it.
  • One study Dr. Newberg conducted took scans of elderly volunteers brains, “taught them a mantra-based type of meditation and asked them to practice that meditation 12 minutes a day for eight weeks”. Once those 8 weeks past, they came back for a final scan, and Newberg found major changes in their brains- particularly in areas used to focus our attention and mind. Newberg stated that many of the participants felt they experienced more clarity while thinking and had a greater capacity to remember things; “the new scans and memory tests confirmed their claims”.
  • Forbes Magazine confirms that mindfulness and meditation changes brain structure; there is an increase in cortical thickness in the hippocampus and reduced brain cell volume in amygdala (the region that governs fear, anxiety, and stress).
  • The Atlantic – on the topic of UP neuroscientist Newberg’s research- reported that “when practitioners surrender their will, activity decreases in their frontal lobes, suggesting that speech is being generated from some place other than the normal speech centers”.
  • Meditation brings on a neurotransmitter change that involves all major NT systems and “contributes to the amelioration of anxiety and depressive symptomatology and in part explain the psychogenetic property of mediation”
  • A publication by NPR relayed that people who spend time praying and meditating have differently wired brains. UPenn neuroscientist Newberg has found that it increased frontal lobe activity and when monitoring those deep in prayer he found little to no parietal lobe activity- an area of the brain that discerns our sense of self. As a result, there is a loss of sense of self  and presence of an overwhelming sense of oneness with the universe
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people can create a positive outlook on your life. By surrounding yourself with a positive environment, your brain produces more endorphins. Research studies show that positivity, moderate exercise, having a laugh, smiling more reduces stress and decreases risk for cardiovascular diseases.
  •  Practicing acceptance each day and owning your flaws and accepting things as they are is healthy. It practices a healthy mental mindset. With age comes with more acceptance of who you are, research studies show that by the age of twenty-five your brain is fully developed. With younger people such as teens and twenties-something-year-olds, they are still finding themselves and with age and maturity comes acceptance. 
  • Reading about other religions allows you to open and expand your mind, a cornerstone of spirituality. Learning about other religions can make you knowledgeable psychologically and understand their beliefs and values.   
  • Praying can be healing for the soul, prayer can also be a form of meditation. The belief of prayer can be spiritually healing and show compassion for others, as well as teach you to emphasize for others.
  • Traveling is good for the kindred spirit and soul, it allows you to experience a new world beyond what you already know. Traveling teaches you a lot and independence, which is great for the soul. No matter what age, traveling is always fun and exciting. The older you get, your idea of travel plans may change, some enjoy a relaxing and stable vacation while the young might prefer a spontaneous and action-packed adventure.
  • Reading spirituality and self-discovery books is great for anyone who has a keen interest in gaining new information about spiritual, religion, evolution. Self-discovery books are great to take in a new perspective on all things spirituality.  
  • Visiting museums expands your horizons as well as bringing you joy. There are spiritual museums such as the spirituality circle museum in Franklin, Ohio and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented an exhibit on the age of spirituality. Visiting a museum can be spiritually benefiting by teaching about ancient history and also prophets.

Leave a Reply