If we had to pick one dominant trend among the health studies that emerged in 2015, the connection between exercise and cognitive health would be a tough contender to beat (perhaps with vitamin D research coming in at a close second). Whether it’s weight training, regular aerobic exercise or even just 10 minutes of brisk walking, the mental benefits of exercise are starting to stack up as much as the physical. And now, there’s even more evidence showing your fitness routine is helping your brain stay sharp.
Exercise Could Help Boost Young Adults’ Memories and Learning Potential
Exercising for brain health doesn’t only benefit those wanting to forestall the effects of aging—it can also give young adults a mental boost. A December 2015 study by Boston University Medical Center discovered that young adults between the ages of 18- to 35-years-old who were physically fit (as determined by measuring their breathing during a treadmill test) also had greater volume in the entorhinal cortex—an area of the brain that controls recognition memory and plays a critical role in learning.
Exercise Could “Rewire” the Brain
The belief that the brain is unable to mend itself from an untreatable condition is now up for debate. Researchers have discovered that exercise may enhance the “plasticity” of the adult brain, allowing it to change—and most notably, repair and improve. A December 2015 study published in Current Biology compared participants’ vision after covering one eye and riding a stationary bike for 10-minute intervals to the vision of those who were just sitting. The results showed that the cyclists’ eyes were “strongly potentiated”; in other words, there was more plasticity in the brain. Researchers say this is especially good news for anyone with amblyopia (or a “lazy eye,” which was thought to be irreparable in adults) as well as trauma patients.
Exercise May Encourage Quicker Decision-Making
A new study soon to be published in a forthcoming issue of NeuroImage tested the impact of exercise on decision-making. After analyzing the aerobic fitness of participants (all men between the ages of 64 and 75), the researchers used infrared light to track blood flow and oxygen in the brain while participants were tested on if they could recognize the name of a color that appeared in a different color (for example, seeing the word “red” written in blue). You can probably guess the result: The fitter group’s decision-making was not only quicker, but it was also more accurate.
No matter your age or the setbacks you may be facing, the research continues to prove hopeful that exercise could turn back the clock or even improve memory and learning potential. And, of course, there’s always the physical payoff as well.