No-Brainer to Exercise

Aerobic activity keeps the brain sharp across all age groups

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) It's wintertime and time to be out of school. Kids and adults alike don't need to be hitting the books to keep their minds sharp over the holidays.

Walking, running, jumping and other aerobic exercise can boost brain power in the meantime, according to a recently published study.

Though it's a no-brainer, regularly engaging in physical activity can help people "optimize a range of executive functions," researchers said.

"Walk at least 30 minutes a day."

The study, led by Hayley Guiney and Liana Machado, from the Department of Psychology and Brain Health Research Center at the University of Otago in New Zealand, aimed to find how exactly aerobic exercise affects decision making and brain functioning in people of all ages.

Researchers reviewed over 30 studies involving children, young adults and older adults on the long-term benefits of exercise.

They found that, in young adults, exercise primarily helps working memory, which involves actively thinking about and holding information in the mind.

To a lesser extent, exercise also improves how well young adults can switch tasks and respond after making an error, called posterror performance.

Exercise also helps working memory in kids, as well as their attention spans and inhibitory control.

For older adults, more active individuals scored better on mental tests compared to those who were less fit. Physical activity can slow or lower the decline in certain age-related tasks like driving.

And compared to different kinds of exercise, those who did aerobic activity scored higher on tests than those who just stretched or toned their muscles.

Exercise can be a simple means to help people optimize their cognitive functioning, the authors said, though more research is needed to see how exercise benefits the younger, healthy populations.

"…The indications reported thus far that regular exercise can benefit brains even when they are in their prime developmentally warrant more rigorous investigation, particularly in the context of society becoming increasingly sedentary," the authors wrote in their report.

The study was published in the December issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. The University of Otago funded the study. Conflicts of interests were not available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 27, 2012
Last Updated:
December 29, 2012