Emerging research suggests aerobic exercise increases the size of critical brain structures and improves cognition in children and older adults.
The discovery that aerobic exercise is therapeutic for cognitive health, in addition to cardiovascular fitness and body composition, was the subject of a recent session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Art Kramer, a University of Illinois psychology professor, discussed the role of physical fitness on cognition, explaining that “increased physical activity has direct, and relatively rapid effects on cognition and brain health.”
“Such results have now been reported, over the course of several decades, in animal studies of physical activity.”
Studies in humans, many conducted in Kramer’s lab, also show that regular exercise, such as walking three times per week, also increases brain power. The new findings are important because “populations throughout the industrialized world are becoming increasing sedentary as a result of the changing nature of work and leisure activities,” Kramer said.
“As a result of these societal changes, increases in diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers are increasing. Physical activity serves to reduce susceptibility to these diseases.”
In his presentation, Kramer showed results from his lab that demonstrated that older adults who participate in fitness training and physical activity, benefit from significant improvements in their brain structure and function.
Kramer discussed how emerging scientific tools include both behavioral measures and non-invasive neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, event-related brain potential, and event-related optical signals to assess cognition.