A new review of 39 studies on exercise and brain function has found that regular physical activity can positively influence cognitive ability and memory skills in middle-aged adults.
Previous studies have shown that physical activity provides significant risk reduction in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and many chronic conditions.
In this new research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, experts from the University of Canberra show that exercise also plays a role in warding off against mid-life cognitive decline.
The Australian researchers tested the efficacy of various exercise regimes, including aerobic exercise such as running or cycling, resistance training, as well as less strenuous forms of exercise, like Tai Chi, in maintaining or improving cognitive functioning.
The impact of exercise on the state of an individual’s brain health was measured in terms of improvements to either thinking functions, memory skills or both.
The first finding was that all these different types of exercise were effective in providing some benefits to cognitio, especially when used in combination and performed for a minimum of four consecutive weeks.
Researchers noted, however, that aerobic exercise tend to improve thinking skills, such as reading, learning and reasoning, while weight training had a positive effect on memory and the ability to plan and organise.
Engaging in exercise of at least moderate intensity for a duration of 45 to 60 min per session several days a week provided the greatest benefits to cognition. That said, any exercise helps, according to the researchers.
“Whilst every 10 minutes of exercise provides some benefit, doing 150 minutes a week, as recommended in NHS guidelines, cuts the chances of depression and dementia by a third, and boosts mental health at any age,” Dr Justin Varney, from Public Health England, told the Press Association.
Physical exercise seems to improve cognitive function even in those who already show signs of cognitive decline, suggesting that exercise not only protects but also assists in repairing or restoring the aged brain.
Processes that mediate the effect of exercise on cognition include an increase in blood flow, the creation of new neurons through the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), enhanced insulin sensitivity, stress reductio, decreased inflammation, and more.
Physical exercise training promotes great benefits to cognitive function and being mentally active, eating a balanced diet, and not drinking or smoking can further magnify these effects.

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