Exercise is not only important for the health of our body, the brain also benefits from it. Research shows that regular endurance training have positive effect on the brain even in middle age.
Regular Exercise Improves Executive Functions
Everyone knows that exercise is essential for good health, as it can prevent various diseases and prolong life. However, according to research, physical exercise also has beneficial effects on the brain. US scientists discovered that regular exercise such as cycling, walking or climbing stairs improves thinking skills even in young people. The experts also found that the beneficial effects of exercise on cogitation can increase with age.
This is particularly important with regard to mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, since regular training can counteract the loss of mental abilities. The specific group of thinking skills that exercise enhances are called executive functions. This refers to a person’s ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize themselves, and achieve goals.
Endurance Training Versus Strength Training
To determine whether exercise already has a positive effect on the brain in young people, a team of scientists led by Yaakov Stern from
Columbia University in New York examined 132 people between the ages of 20 and 65 who had neither smoked nor had dementia were ill but were not physically active. The study participants had to go to the fitness center four times a week for six months. The subjects were divided into two groups: one part completed stretching and strengthening exercises at regular intervals, the other received aerobic endurance training, using either a treadmill, cross trainer or bicycle.
At the beginning of the study, the participants were tested in terms of their brain abilities, three months later, and at the end of the study after six months, when their physical and mental fitness was checked again. Researchers measured participants’ aerobic capacity using an ergometer, which estimated exercise intensity. Participants underwent MRI brain scans at the beginning and end of the study.
Exercise Improves Brain Performance Even in Younger People
At the end of the study, the results were amazing: Those subjects who had done aerobic training were not only able to improve their physical fitness, but also their mental ability. Specifically, when it came to executive functions, the aerobic group had better results than the strength exercise group. Those participants who had practiced endurance sports achieved an improvement in executive performance of 0.5 points, i.e. they were twice as fit as the other group.
The amazing thing: the younger test subjects were also able to record improvements, albeit not as much as the over 60-year-olds. The 40-year-olds could look forward to a mental rejuvenation of 10 years, the over 60-year-olds even 20 years. The excercise activity of the endurance group also had a positive effect on their brain. Not only did the participants show improvements in executive brain functions, the thickness of the gray matter in the brain also increased.
Aerobic Exercise Against Mental Decline
Based on the results, the researchers assume that regular exercise has a beneficial effect on the brain performance of all age groups. The scientists note that physical activity could be particularly beneficial from the age of 30, as mental abilities begin to wane at this point. Aerobic training can either curb or stop this decline, regardless of age.
Although the study, published in the online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has a small number of participants, its results in terms of mental fitness are promising, warranting larger studies .