We all know that exercise has many beneficial effects on the human body. A lot of recent research however indicates that the positive effects of exercise extend to brain health as well, with exercise having an influence on cognition as well as memory. In a review featuring the results of over 100 recent animal and human studies on exercise and brain health, it’s revealed that both strength training and aerobic exercise play an important part in maintaining brain health throughout life.
Making use of the results of 111 studies, the review showcases the effects of strength training and aerobic exercise on people ranging in age from kids to older adults. They relate these results to those in laboratory animals, such as mice and rats, which offer a window on the pathways by which exercise can enhance brain health.
The review indicates that aerobic exercise is beneficial for getting an early start in childhood on cognitive ability which is very important in life. For instance, physical inactivity is linked to poorer results on standard neuropsychological tests as well as academic performance, though exercise appears to improve attention, decision making and memory. These effects extend to young and older adults as well, with strong evidence for executive function benefits from aerobic training, such as planning, multi-tasking and inhibition, as well as increasing brain structure volume, which is important for memory. Even though hardly any research has looked at how strength training affects brain health in kids, research in older adults indicates that high-load and high-intensity training improves memory.
Animal studies, mainly models which test the impact of aerobic exercise, indicate that various mechanisms are responsible for these effects. For instance, exercise seems to change brain structure, stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and nerve cells. Exercise also increases the generation of neurochemicals, such as IGF-1 and BDNF, which promote growth, survival, differentiation and repair of brain cells.