Is Exercise the Ultimate Hack for Improving Focus and Concentration?

Cathe Friedrich brings focus and concentration to her STS 2.0 workout program

Life as we know it is filled with demands and distractions. So, it’s no surprise that staying focused is an uphill battle. When you look at your to-do list and see multiple items, you might feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. That’s where the power of focus comes in. Focusing on tasks is the key to getting things done and out of the way, so you can mark them off your list and enjoy that glow of accomplishment.

Are there natural ways to improve your focus? What about exercise? Recent research sheds light on the benefits exercise offers for improving focus and concentration. By adding physical activity to your day, you can unlock a world of cognitive advantages to empower you to focus better and get things done. So, how exactly does exercise improve focus? Let’s look at what scientific research has uncovered so far about exercise and focus.

Exercise Enhances Cognitive Abilities:

It’s no secret that exercise boosts cognitive function, including learning, thinking, memory, focus, and reasoning. Engaging in regular physical activity stimulates the brain and the growth of new neurons. It also enhances the connections between existing nerve cells.  These changes allow you to absorb information more effectively, solve problems with ease, and maintain a sharp focus on the task at hand.

Imagine tackling a challenging project at work or studying for an important exam. You’ve been studying for hours and you’re having trouble retaining information. A quick walk or another form of exercise may be just what you need to increase your focus and concentration and ace that test.  By adding regular exercise to your to-do list, you can elevate your cognitive prowess and unlock your full potential. Let’s look at some of the ways exercise improves mental focus.

Exercise Reduces Anxiety and Elevates Mood:

Have you ever noticed how a brisk walk or a brief sweat session instantly lifts your mood? Exercise releases the brain’s “feel-good” endorphins. Why does this matter? Endorphins calm and relieve pain, according to research. This surge of positivity not only helps combat anxiety but also sets the stage for improved focus.

When you reduce anxiety, distractions lose their grip, allowing you to channel your mental energy toward the task at hand. Picture yourself entering a meeting or stepping into a classroom feeling calm, confident, and ready to absorb information like a sponge. That’s the power of exercise. Plus, exercise improves sleep quality, which indirectly eases stress and makes it easier to focus on whatever project you’re undertaking.

Exercise Boosts Blood Flow to the Brain:

Your brain thrives on oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow. Physical activity stimulates your heart rate, so your heart pumps more blood to your brain, giving your brain a bolus of oxygen and nutrients that help you focus while strengthening the connection between nerve cells.

By improving blood circulation to the brain, exercise creates an environment conducive to heightened concentration and mental clarity. Imagine the difference in focus when your brain is nourished and invigorated. That’s the power of exercise! Think about how sluggish you feel when you sit in a chair for too long. You feel sleepy and your motivation dwindles. But once you get up and start moving around, blood and oxygen delivery increases to your brain and muscles and you feel more awake, alive, aware, and focused.

Exercise Improves Memory and Thinking Skills:

Memory and thinking skills are not fixed entities; you can hone and improve them with the right tools. Exercise has emerged as a powerful tool in this regard. Studies show that physical activity enhances memory and thinking skills through both direct and indirect means.

Research shows exercise sprouts new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning.  Indirectly, exercise boosts the release of chemicals that support cognitive function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). By engaging in exercise, you supply your brain with the resources it needs to thrive, resulting in sharper memory, faster thinking, and improved concentration.

Exercise Boosts Attention Span and Task Performance:

We’ve all experienced moments when attention wavers and it’s hard to maintain focus and stay on track. Your attention gets diverted by your cell phone or social media and a few minutes turns into an hour. You can’t take back that lost time! Exercise is your secret weapon. Even a short exercise session will increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain and help you get back on task.

When you engage in exercise, the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for executive functions like attention and decision-making, goes into overdrive. So, you’re better equipped to filter out distractions, maintain concentration, and complete tasks with greater efficiency. Whether you’re working on a complex project or studying for an exam, exercise empowers you to stay on course.

Key Takeaways:

  • Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons and strengthens connections between existing nerve cells. This helps sharpen focus and problem-solving skills.
  • Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, and reduces anxiety, which helps combat distractions, so you can get the job done.
  • Physical activity boosts blood flow to the brain, providing oxygen and nourishment for better concentration and mental clarity.
  • Exercise may improve memory and thinking skills, leading to sharper memory, faster thinking, and improved concentration.
  • Exercise boosts the activity of the prefrontal cortex, a portion of the brain responsible for executive functions like attention and decision-making. This helps filter distractions, improve concentration, and boost task efficiency.
  • Even short exercise sessions can help regain focus by boosting blood flow and oxygen to the brain.


Keep moving! It’s good therapy for your brain and for staying focused.


  • “Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.” 15 Feb. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills.
  • Hogan CL, Mata J, Carstensen LL. Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults. Psychol Aging. 2013 Jun;28(2):587-94. doi: 10.1037/a0032634. PMID: 23795769; PMCID: PMC3768113.
  • Cabral DF, Rice J, Morris TP, Rundek T, Pascual-Leone A, Gomes-Osman J. Exercise for Brain Health: An Investigation into the Underlying Mechanisms Guided by Dose. Neurotherapeutics. 2019 Jul;16(3):580-599. doi: 10.1007/s13311-019-00749-w. PMID: 31197642; PMCID: PMC6694330.
  • “Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity – Mayo Clinic.” 08 Oct. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389.
  • “Intensive exercise ameliorates motor and cognitive symptoms in … – AAAS.” 14 Jul. 2023, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adh1403.
  • “Physical Activity Boosts Brain Health | DNPAO | CDC.” 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/features/physical-activity-brain-health/index.html.
  • “Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.” 15 Feb. 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills.

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