It has been known for some time that exercise, including brain-specific exercises, can be very beneficial for improving cognitive function. New research has provided more insights on how being more active can ensure this.
In a new study published in the British Journal of Psychology, researchers were able to learn more about how aerobic exercise may have better effects on brain function. They investigated and compared the effects of passive, seated conditions to those of upright posture and aerobic exercise to arrive at their conclusion.
The study had 24 participants. The electroencephalography readings of these people were taken while they performed a visual working memory task.
The brain readings were taken while the subjects were at rest, seated, standing, or performing some form of exercise, including walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle. Upright posture or aerobic exercise had better effects on visual working memory.
“Our findings hold implications not only for the field of cognitive psychology, wherein our knowledge has been primarily derived from seated, resting participants, but also for our understanding of cognitive performance at large,” lead author Dr. Thomas Tollner said, according to Science Daily. “Although modern society has evolved to become more and more sedentary, our brains may nevertheless perform best while our bodies are active.”
This is not the first time researchers reported how physical exercise can enhance cognitive function. Multiple other studies carried out over the years had also shown that it helps to fight the effects of aging on the brain.
There are different theories on how physical exercise can boost mental health. One is that it assists in regulating blood sugar levels. Researchers observed that people with glucose intolerance issues tend to have a smaller hippocampus.
Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, meaning that more oxygen will be provided. Studies show that it enhances cardiovascular health and many researchers have found evidence that this has a connection to mental health as well.
Furthermore, studies done using mice showed that exercise raises the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This substance supports and enhances the connections between neurons in the brain.
Exercise may also promote neurogenesis, which is the production of new neurons.
The hippocampus, a region vital for memory and learning, appears to be most impacted by exercise, based on evidence from research. The prefrontal, frontal and temporal cortexes are among the areas of the brain that also feel the effect.
In the new study, the researchers were not only able to show how exercise improved the cognitive performance of the participants but also gave an idea of the neural origins of the observed effects.
However, aging adults can benefit more from increasing their level of activity compared to children and young adults, based on research.