is the brain a muscle

Is your brain a muscle?

March 25, 2024
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Do fish drink water? Are eggs dairy? Is the brain a muscle? 

While we don’t always have the answers to all of life’s questions, we do have a pretty good understanding of the brain.

This intriguing question—Is the brain a muscle?—stems from the brain's remarkable ability to grow and adapt, much like muscles do when we exercise them. So in this article, we’ll discuss the remarkable structure and capabilities of your brain, and explain why the analogy of "exercising" your brain is more than just a figure of speech.

The brain vs. muscle: key differences

Think of your brain as the captain of your nervous system. It’s a complex organ that’s responsible for everything—from regulating your heart rate to solving complex problems.

But unlike muscle cells that contract and relax through physical exertion, the brain is built of neurons and glial cells that communicate through signals. 

And while both the brain and muscles can be “exercised,” the brain differs from muscles in composition, function, and growth.  


The brain is a complex organ made up of billions of neurons (nerve cells) that send and receive signals throughout the body. It’s also structured in a way where certain areas of the brain are dedicated to specific functions such as thought, emotion, or motor control. 

Muscles, on the other hand, are made of myocytes (the technical term for muscle cells), which simply slide past each other to contract and relax. And while each muscle has a single function, there are different types of muscles including skeletal, smooth, and cardiac. 


The brain’s functioning is immensely complex and involves many simultaneous processes that manage everything, from your thoughts to body functions like blinking or breathing. 

Muscle function primarily involves converting energy to produce force and movement. They work in pairs or groups to facilitate movement. 


The last key difference between your brain and your muscles refers to how they change and adapt over time. Your muscles grow stronger in response to physical movement. However, the brain adapts to new circumstances by creating new thought pathways whenever you experience or practice something new. 

So, to answer the age-old question: the brain is not a muscle. But treating it like one can bring about big benefits, which we’ll discuss next.

The role of exercise in brain health

Even though your brain doesn’t get stronger in the same way that a muscle does, lacing up your sneakers and engaging in physical exercise is still a good idea for brain health. 

In fact, studies have shown that engaging in regular physical activity boosts blood flow, forms new neurons, and enhances cognitive functions in the brain.

Fueling the brain: nutrition and mental fitness

And similar to how good nutritional habits are essential for muscle growth, nutrition plays a vital role in brain health. 

Eating brain-healthy foods like fish, seeds, berries, nuts, and leafy greens, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants, supports the physical structure of the brain and helps protect against damage that can occur over time. 

Mental exercises to "work out" the brain

If you’re looking to engage in activities that have specific benefits for your brain health, try immersing yourself in activities like puzzles or playing brain games, which challenge you to think deeply and critically. Like varied physical workouts benefit different muscle groups, diverse mental challenges can enrich different cognitive abilities, fostering an agile and healthy mind.

A one-stop shop for brain training games is the Elevate app. Elevate offers a wide range of brain training games designed to improve cognitive skills such as writing, speaking, reading, vocabulary, memory, and math. It also includes a Daily Crossword—a quick mini puzzle that can help you challenge yourself, boost your brain power, and expand your vocabulary.

Cultivating a strong mind for a healthy life with fun brain games

Even though the brain isn't actually a muscle, treating it like one can help keep it active and growing like the rest of your body. 

And if you want to take the first step toward strengthening your brain right now, start your free trial of the Elevate brain training app on iOS or Android. You’ll get personalized brain training workouts, plus 40+ games backed by science and designed to improve your vocabulary, memory, mental math, and more. 

While the brain may not lift weights, it flexes its power in every thought. And Elevate is here to support that!


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