Did You Know That Exercise Improves Brain Function?

Did You Know That Exercise Improves Brain Function?

What’s the background?
It is well-known that exercise improves physical health and reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases, such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. However, it is less well-known that exercise also has a beneficial effect on cognitive function and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline. This review explored the effects of exercise on cognition and the brain.

Fitness prevents loss of hippocampal volume
The reviewers note that in a cross-sectional investigation of older adults, those with higher fitness levels displayed greater preservation of hippocampal volume. Greater hippocampal volume is associated with increased spatial memory and reduced forgetfulness.

Fitness prevents loss of white matter
The reviewers explain that anterior white matter tract loss in the brain is associated with cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. They observe that studies have shown that the loss of anterior white matter tracts is spared in individuals with increased aerobic fitness.

Fitness is associated with better cognition
The reviewers observe that studies have reported that physically fit older adults perform better than their less-fit counterparts at simple cognitive tasks and that cardiorespiratory fitness is a good predictor of increased overall cognitive function, cognitive speed, verbal memory, and attention.
Exercise improves cognition in healthy adults
The reviewers explain that one study reported that 2 months of aerobic exercise significantly improved memory and learning ability in older adults. A second study found that walking 90 minutes once a week for 3 months led to improvements in frontal lobe function. Another study found that exercising for 4 weeks improved object recognition memory, even in younger adults.

Exercise improves brain structure and cognition in diseased adults
The reviewers explain that randomized control trials of several months of physical activity have found improved cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Similar trials have found improvement on cognitive functioning tests in individuals with dementia.

What did the reviewers conclude?
The reviewers concluded that exercise leads to positive effects on cognitive functioning, preserves hippocampal volume and white matter tract integrity, and reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The reviewers conclude that exercising not only helps maintain physical fitness but also enhances brain fitness.

What are the practical implications?
As fitness professionals, when describing the benefits of exercise to the general public, we should be emphasising the positive effects of exercise on both physical and mental health.

The study: The Role of Mobility as a Protective Factor of Cognitive Functioning in Aging Adults: A Review, by Zhao, Tranovich and Wright, in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 2014

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