Building Brainpower: How Exercise Sparks Angiogenesis for Mental Fitness

Shree Rath, MS-2, AIIMS Bhubaneswar


Exercise is more than just moving your body—it’s a powerful tool for improving your health and well-being. Whether you’re jogging in the park, lifting weights at the gym, or practicing yoga at home, exercise offers countless benefits for your body and mind. It strengthens your muscles, boosts your endurance, and keeps your heart healthy. Beyond the physical benefits, exercise also improves your mood, reduces stress, and enhances your overall quality of life. Exercise, as an age-old practice, has been coming more into the limelight with the rise of lifestyle diseases. With established benefits of exercise on the health of our mind, heart and body, various forms of exercise are becoming more and more popular among people. Newer studies have come up, proving the role of exercise to be beneficial in the angiogenesis of the brain. Different forms of exercise and their potential in contributing to angiogenesis are as follows:


1.Aerobic Exercise:


Aerobic exercise, often referred to as cardiovascular or cardio exercise, is a form of physical activity that promotes increased heart rate and enhanced respiratory function. This type of exercise involves activities that engage large muscle groups, such as running, swimming, cycling. “Aerobic” denotes that the body utilizes oxygen to meet the increased energy demands during exercise.

These exercises are known to enhance cerebral blood flow and angiogenesis. They trigger the release of neurotrophic factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), promoting the growth of new blood vessels in the dentate gyrus of the brain[1]. This increased vascularization leads to increased nutrient and oxygen  delivery to brain tissues. The increased CBV (cerebral blood volume) was found to be in the region of the dentate gyrus, an area responsible for higher cognitive functions like memory. This increased angiogenesis also showed a positive correlation with the heart and respiratory function.


2. Resistance Training:


Resistance training, also known as strength or weight training, is a form of exercise that focuses on improving muscular strength, endurance, and tone by working against a resistance. Weights, resistance bands or machines can provide remarkable resistance. Unlike aerobic exercise, which targets cardiovascular and respiratory fitness, resistance training aims to improve skeletal muscle strength. Resistance training plays a crucial role in injury prevention by strengthening connective tissues and supporting joint stability. Moreover, it can positively impact mental health by boosting confidence, reducing stress, and enhancing overall mood. Whether pursued for athletic performance, functional fitness, or general well-being, resistance training offers a versatile and rewarding means of achieving physical strength and resilience. Incorporating it into a balanced exercise routine can empower individuals to lead healthier, more active lives for the long term.

Beyond its association with muscle strength, resistance training has demonstrated potential benefits for angiogenesis. The mechanical stress imposed on muscles during resistance exercises induces the release of growth factors, such as fibroblast growth factor (FGF), contributing to enhanced vascularization in the brain[2]. This study also showed how resistance exercise seemed to be improving mood in the elderly population. Additionally, resistance exercise may trigger the release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which stimulates the formation of blood vessels. By enhancing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, resistance training could promote neurogenesis, synaptic connectivity, and overall cognitive function. Moreover, improved vascular health in the brain may contribute to the prevention or delay of age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders.




Yoga is a holistic practice that originated in India and promotes physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. The physical aspect of yoga involves various postures or “asanas” that promote flexibility, strength, and balance. Simultaneously, breath control, or “pranayama,” plays a crucial role in regulating energy and enhancing focus. Beyond the physical aspect, yoga cultivates mental clarity, emotional resilience, and inner peace by encouraging mindfulness and self-awareness. Its emphasis on conscious breathing techniques helps reduce stress, calm the nervous system, and enhance relaxation response. Moreover, yoga philosophy promotes values such as compassion, gratitude, and self-discipline, guiding practitioners towards a more balanced and fulfilling life both on and off the mat. As a timeless tradition with profound effects on body, mind, and spirit, yoga continues to inspire millions worldwide on their journey towards holistic well-being.

 Yoga, combining physical postures, controlled breathing, and mindfulness, has shown associations with increased cerebral blood flow. Studies suggest that yoga may contribute to neurovascular health and potentially support angiogenesis[3], providing a conducive environment for vascular growth. Yoga also holds promise to decrease age-related neurodegenerative changes in the brain, thus protecting from diseases like Alzheimer’s.


4.High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

This is an efficient and time saving exercise strategy that alternates between short, intense bursts of activity and brief periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. A session might involve exercises like sprinting, jumping, or bodyweight exercises performed at maximum effort for 20-30 seconds, followed by a short rest or active recovery period. The cycle is then repeated for the duration of the workout. 

 HIIT has demonstrated positive effects on cerebrovascular function and angiogenesis. The intermittent nature of HIIT appears to stimulate molecular pathways associated with blood vessel formation in the brain[4], potentially enhancing vascular density. The study also observed an increase in insulin sensitivity, thus showing how effective this form of exercise can be for lifestyle diseases like type 2 Diabetes.


5.Combined Exercise Programs:

These exercises combine all of the above-mentioned types for a holistic and balanced exercise regimen. Comprehensive exercise programs are meticulously designed regimens that encompass various facets of physical fitness to optimize health and performance. These programs typically integrate elements of cardiovascular training, strength training, flexibility exercises, and sometimes even mindfulness practices such as yoga or meditation. By incorporating a diverse range of activities, comprehensive exercise programs aim to address multiple aspects of fitness, including endurance, strength, flexibility, balance, and agility. Tailored to individual needs and goals, these programs may also include elements of injury prevention, rehabilitation, and periodization to ensure gradual progress and minimize the risk of overtraining. Moreover, they often emphasize proper nutrition, hydration, and rest to support optimal recovery and overall well-being. With their holistic approach, comprehensive exercise programs offer a well-rounded framework for achieving and maintaining physical fitness, enhancing quality of life, and promoting long-term health.

Comprehensive exercise programs that integrate various modalities, such as combining aerobic and resistance training, have been shown to have synergistic effects on angiogenesis. These combined approaches stimulate diverse physiological responses[5], including the release of growth factors and increased blood flow, contributing to comprehensive neurovascular health.


Exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle, encompassing a diverse range of physical activities that promote overall well-being. Whether it’s cardiovascular workouts like running, cycling, or swimming, or strength training through weight lifting and bodyweight exercises, engaging in regular physical activity offers numerous benefits. Exercise not only enhances cardiovascular health, strengthens muscles, and improves flexibility and coordination but also uplifts mood and reduces stress through the release of endorphins. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Moreover, exercise fosters discipline, perseverance, and mental clarity, contributing to a balanced and fulfilling life. Making exercise a consistent part of one’s routine is an investment in long-term health and vitality.


In summary, exercising is really good for your brain’s blood vessels. It helps create more blood vessels in the brain, which means more oxygen and nutrients can reach all parts of your brain. This is great because it keeps your brain healthy and helps you think better. Plus, when you exercise regularly, it may even protect your brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s and help you recover faster from things like strokes. So, by staying active and exercising, you’re not just keeping your body fit, you’re also keeping your brain in top shape for the long run!


Before starting any exercise program, it is important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or physician to ensure that it is safe for you to do so, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, injuries, or concerns about your health.



  1. Pereira, A.C., Huddleston, D.E., Brickman, A.M., Sosunov, A.A., Hen, R., McKhann, G.M., Sloan, R., Gage, F.H., Brown, T.R. and Small, S.A. (2007). An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(13), pp.5638–5643. doi:
  2. Cassilhas, R.C., Viana, V. a. R., Grassmann, V., Santos, R.T., Santos, R.F., Tufik, S. and Mello, M.T. (2007). The Impact of Resistance Exercise on the Cognitive Function of the Elderly. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, [online] 39(8), pp.1401–1407. doi:
  3. Gothe, N.P., Khan, I., Hayes, J., Erlenbach, E. and Damoiseaux, J.S. (2019). Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature. Brain Plasticity, 5(1), pp.105–122. doi:
  4. Cocks, M., Shepherd, S.O., Tipton, K.D., Wagenmakers, A.J.M. and Shaw, C.S. (2010). High-intensity interval training improves microvascular and macrovascular function and insulin sensitivity. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(14), pp.i9–i9. doi:
  5. Flöel, A., Ruscheweyh, R., Krüger, K., Willemer, C., Winter, B., Völker, K., Lohmann, H., Zitzmann, M., Mooren, F., Breitenstein, C. and Knecht, S. (2010). Physical activity and memory functions: Are neurotrophins and cerebral gray matter volume the missing link? NeuroImage, 49(3), pp.2756–2763.