Dear Body, It’s Me, Brain

By Kristen Hansen
Last updated: January 9, 2024
Key Takeaways

Why physical health plays an important role in employee mental health status.

Two office workers walking while discussing a project.
Source: LightFieldStudios / Envato Elements

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the various factors that contribute to positive mental health in the workplace.


The strategies they’ve adopted to promote worker wellness are numerous, but often don’t include promoting physical health as a strategy to improve mental wellbeing. This despite the fact that physical health has clear and demonstrated links to mental health and should, therefore, be included in any wellness program.

I know, I know. You’ve heard all about the benefits of being physically active before. The problem isn’t a lack of awareness – it’s finding the time to fit in a workout.


We’re too busy working to find time to exercise. And when we do find the time, we’re too stressed to actually do anything physical – you know, because of how much we’re working.

We’re tired. We’re frazzled. We’re spending so much time being productive and exercise just feels like more productivity. By the time we have an hour to spare, we’re too exhausted to do anything other than watching Netflix until we’re too tired even to do that.

And let’s face it: we do care about our bodies, but we care about productivity more.

But that’s precisely why we should be encouraging everyone to be more active at work – especially the office staff with sedentary jobs.

(Learn about 11 Workplace Wellness Efforts That Help Improve Workplace Safety)


How Exercise Affects the Brain

It’s common knowledge that exercise is good for the body, but the effects it has on the brain are arguably even more important. Not only do studies show that increased activity levels promote higher energy levels and reduced fatigue, but it’s also responsible for the release of several neurotransmitters that play an important role in improving brain function.

There’s no shortage of research demonstrating that exercise gives you more energy and helps reduce fatigue. One study by the University of Georgia found that people who regularly experienced fatigue increased their energy levels by as much as 20% just by engaging in 20 minutes of low intensity cardio three times a week.

Exercise also produces physiological responses that are easily observable, like increased heart rate, heavier breathing, a rise in body temperature, and a sped up metabolism. Those are all the result of neurotransmitters the body releases in response to exercise. Specifically, cortisol, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.


Cortisol has a bad rep. Mainly because it has been deemed responsible for weight gain by several different dietary supplement brands.

But cortisol isn’t the weight-gain hormone – it’s the primary stress hormone. It helps restore homeostasis, or balance, within the body in response to stress. Cortisol also affects potassium and sodium levels in the body, as well as functioning as a counter to insulin by promoting higher blood glucose levels.

Less widely known, though, is the role it plays in memory. An increase in cortisol levels is associated with higher memory function, though too much cortisol can have a detrimental effect on the memory centers of the brain.


Norepinephrine is another stress-related hormone. This one is responsible for the body’s fight or flight response.

In reaction to stress, the body releases norepinephrine to increase respiration, and therefore the amount of oxygen going to the brain, which, in turn, allows you to think more clearly and faster. Norepinephrine has also been shown to play a role in memory retrieval as it interacts with the hippocampus.

Another effect of norepinephrine is an increase in glucose release, which essentially means that your body receives a natural sugar rush from the release of this particular hormone. This means you don’t have to reach for a candy bar to give you the sugar boost you need to power yourself through the rest of the afternoon. You’re better off going for a walk instead.


Dopamine might be the most important neurotransmitter released during physical activity, as it affects movement, cognition, pleasure, and motivation.

The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for memory, attention, and problem solving. Within the frontal lobes, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for controlling the exchange of information from one area of the brain to another.

Simply put, increased levels of dopamine improve your memory, your attention, and make you a better problem solver.


Serotonin is most commonly associated with depression, as it is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for improving mood.

Increased serotonin levels are directly linked to mood improvement and lower levels of depression, which is why many health and fitness professionals promote exercise as a way to alleviate depression and improve overall wellbeing.

Serotonin has also been shown to play a role in memory. Like dopamine, low levels of serotonin are associated with poor memory.

Move Your Body to Supercharge Your Brain

Although it seems counterintuitive at first, the best way to battle that mid-afternoon fatigue is to get moving.

Studies show that for sedentary individuals, low intensity exercise is the best for reducing feelings of fatigue. Taking short breaks for activity, like taking a walk around the office, for example, will also promote clearer thinking due to the release of the four major neurotransmitters.

Instead of hammering out your next big project without a break, make time to look after the health of your brain. Sharper minds result in higher quality work and can promote an overall boost in productivity with newfound focus. So, for the love of your brain, get moving.

Share This Article

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • X

Related Articles

Go back to top