Regular Exercise Boosts the Brain, Too

Physical activity helps the brain develop and stay sharp, research shows

TUESDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Regular workouts not only do a body good, they may improve the mind as well, a new review of the data on the subject finds.

Human brains seem to benefit from regular aerobic exercise and strength training, the study found, but the researchers added that more investigation is needed to determine how exercise affects brain structure and function.

In their report, published in the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers led by Michelle W. Voss, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reviewed 111 prior studies. They found that both aerobic exercise and strength training are key to brain health and good cognition.

The study revealed that aerobic exercise during childhood, especially, is essential to the development of cognitive abilities that remain important throughout life. Experts have long known that being sedentary is associated with poorer academic performance, the research team pointed out. In contrast, exercise programs have been shown to improve people's memory, attention and decision-making abilities.

The study authors offered a few possible reasons why brain health might get a boost from regular exercise. After examining previous animal studies, they suggested that exercise might alter people's brain structure, triggering the growth of new nerve cells and blood vessels. Physical activity also increases the production of certain brain chemicals that promote the growth and repair of brain cells, they said.

But they added that more research is needed to examine the individual effects of different types of exercise on brain health and cognition.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about the health benefits of exercise.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: American Physiological Society, news release, July 25, 2011

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