We all know that regular exercise can have dramatic effects on our physical health but what about our minds? The effects of physical fitness may extend beyond disease and obesity prevention, potentially impacting our intelligence well into old age.
Some of the benefits of exercise (such as weight loss) come slowly and through repetition. But some research indicates the benefits of exercise on brain health and intelligence could come far more quickly.
One study, published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, found that a single 30-minute session of moderate-intensity exercise could improve memory, planning, and reasoning, and shorten the amount of time needed to complete cognitive tests.
Similar research on young adults identified increases in memory accuracy and recall speed following a half-hour workout, regardless of whether the exercise was aerobic or strength training.
Attempting to explain how acute exercise delivers these benefits, researchers from the University of Illinois found a 30-minute treadmill workout increased neuroelectric activity and resulting cognitive functions, like reasoning and problem solving.
But neuroelectric activity is only part of the answer. Scientists have determined that exercise increases production of beneficial hormones like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), for example. BDNF boosts communication between brain cells and stimulates the growth and development of blood vessels and neurons in the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for forming and organizing memories.
Several studies have linked exercise and the increased production of BDNF to increased hippocampal volume. The hippocampus, incidentally, shrinks with age and is the region of the brain that suffers the first and most profound damage when someone has Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2014, researchers revealed findings that pointed at physical exercise in young adulthood improving cognition later in life. “Better verbal memory and faster psychomotor speed at ages 43 to 55 years were clearly associated with better cardiorespiratory fitness 25 years earlier,” they concluded.
Researchers with King’s College London collected data on more than 9,000 people and found those who exercised at least once per week performed better on cognitive tests at age 50 than those who did not.
And much of the research indicates you can’t be too late to the party. Physical activity in midlife can reduce the risk of dementia in old age, according to the University of Eastern Finland.
So if you feel like trying to exercise yourself smarter then come down to Grangeside Fitness. We’ll even let you complete our tax returns while you run if it’ll help!