Posted on Sep 10, 2019, 5 p.m.
Exercise is well documented to be beneficial from a physical and psychological perspective. A jog around the block, a stroll in the park, or a session in the gym can help to clear the mind, improve moods, and reset thoughts.
Recent research suggests staying fit is associated with better brain structure and functioning in young adults; findings indicate that if one can improve their physical fitness it may lead to improved cognitive ability including increased memory retention and superior problem solving.
Exercise has been concluded to be beneficial for the mind and body in numerous studies, but most have failed to account for some of the underlying variables that may have affected their findings such as BMI, age, education, and blood glucose levels. Also most studies have focused on the effects of exercise on behavior and mood rather than brain structure and mental functioning.
This study investigated connections between exercise and brain functioning, making use of a publicly accessible database of 1,206 MRI scans from the Human Connectome Project with a volunteer average age of 30 who also underwent additional testing including a series of cognitive tests designed to measure memory, reasoning, sharpness, and judgement, and it was documented as to how far they could walk within 2 minutes.
“The great strength of this work is the size of the database. Normally when you are dealing with MRI work, a sample of 30 is pretty good, but the existence of this large MRI database allowed us to eliminate possibly misleading factors, and strengthened the analysis considerably,” comments team leader Dr. Jonathan Repple, of University Hospital Muenster, Germany, in a release.
Healthy young adults who could walk the farthest distance within 2 minutes were found to have scored the highest on cognitive performance tests, and the fittest participants displayed better structural integrity of white matter in the brain which helps to improve speed and quality of the interconnecting nerves in the brain.
“It surprised us to see that even in a young population cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drops. We knew how this might be important in an elderly population which does not necessarily have good health, but to see this happening in 30 year olds is surprising. This leads us to believe that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health,” says Dr. Repple.
“This type of study raises an important question. We see that fitter people have better brain health, so we now need to ask whether actually making people fitter will improve their brain health. Finding this out is our next step. There are some trials which point in that direction, but if we can prove this using such a large database, this would be very significant,” concludes Dr. Repple.
Findings were presented at the 2019 ECNP Congress in Copenhagen. The team hopes to continue to investigate the effects of physical fitness on brain functioning, and examine the changes in brain structure and performance among those who were unfit but changed their lifestyle to become in better physical condition.
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