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Exercise and Your Brain

Young people will understand that the benefits of exercise go beyond their physical well-being. Exercise helps reduce stress, lift moods and improves your ability to think.


9-14 Years Old


45 Minutes

What You Need


Healthy Families Newsletter

English (pdf)

Spanish (pdf)

Somali (pdf)

Hmong (pdf)

To find out how this health safety lesson fits Physical Education and Health Education standards click here.

Lesson Introduction & Overview

Recent research has found that exercise, particularly aerobic activity that involves an element of coordination, has benefits for young people that go far beyond fitness.

Aerobic activity is any physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing. It helps improve your heart and lung fitness. Some examples include brisk walking, hiking, jogging/running, biking, swimming, rowing, jumping rope, dancing and aerobics class.

Physical activity has many benefits. In addition to helping build strong bones and muscles, regular physical activity can:

  • help maintain a healthy weight
  • reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and joint conditions
  • reduce levels of anxiety and stress
  • improve your self-esteem and confidence
  • help improve concentration and memory
  • help maintain good blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • give you an overall feeling of well-being
  • build endurance and increase your metabolism
  • improve your ability to do daily activities
  • help you relax and sleep better.

Studies have found that young people who participate in even 10 minutes of exercise before a test or other academic activity performed better on those tasks than young people who did not exercise. Other studies have found that young people who participate in physical activity consistently have more academic success than their peers who participate less.

For this lesson, the focus is on empowering young people to exercise regardless of their fitness baseline.


Session One

Ask young people a series of questions about exercise: Do they like it? What kinds of exercise do they do or do they know that other people do? What are some of the benefits of exercise?

Then introduce the Exercise-Brain Connection and highlight the following points:
• Exercise is good for your body; it helps keep your heart and other muscles strong, your organs working well and your bones healthy.
• Exercise is also good for your mood: exercising can help improve your mood by reducing stress and anxiety.
• Exercise is good for your brain! Not as many people know this, but exercise can help you focus, problem solve, and remember information and ideas.

Then explain that over the next week your class/group will be doing a research study of your own. Here are the steps:
• Each young person will receive a Your Brain After Exercise tracking sheet.
• For one week, young people should rate how well they think they performed on their homework or brain games and track whether or not they exercised beforehand.
• You can provide age-appropriate activities such as word finds, cryptograms, Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles or online brain games. A simple internet search will provide a variety of resources!
• Encourage young people to exercise for at least 10 minutes sometimes before performing the task, and sometimes not.

Session 2

Ask young people to take out their tracking sheets. Talk about how the week went, what they noticed, what questions they have.

Then create a bar chart showing the results of your study:
• Your X-axis will have two variables: “Yes, I exercised before task” and “No, I did not exercise before task.”
• Your Y-axis will have five variables: the ratings on how they think they performed on their assignments.
• Find the average of all the ratings for times when they did at least 10 minutes of exercise and make that average the first bar.
• Find the average for all the ratings for times when they didn’t do at least 10 minutes of exercise and make that average the second bar.
• Talk about what the bar chart shows. Is there a difference? Why do you think that is so? Did you notice a difference for yourself between times when you exercised and when you didn’t?


Remind young people that research has shown that exercise has a positive impact on brain function and encourage them to make exercise part of their regular routine.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can learn about exercise and the brain at home.

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