Study indicates exercise sharpens the young adult brain

January 20, 2015, University of Otago
Credit: Peter Griffin/Public Domain

Regular physical activity improves brain function even in young adults considered in their prime and at the height of cognitive ability, according to a new University of Otago study.

A body of research already exists showing aerobic improves in , but there is a limited amount of literature on how it affects young adults.

The Otago researchers, led by Department of Psychology Senior Lecturer Dr Liana Machado, set out to test the oft-held belief that the brains of young adults in their prime might not benefit as much as older people from regular sustained exercise.

They took 52 tertiary students, aged from 18 to 30, and put them through a series of cognitive tests on a computer while measuring oxygen availability in the frontal lobe of their brains, as well as their self-reported exercise frequency.

Dr Machado says their "surprising" findings, just published online in the journal Psychophysiology, show that both blood supply to the brain and cognitive functioning appear to benefit from regular exercise in young adults.

"This provides compelling evidence that regular exercise, at least 5 days per week, is a way to sharpen our cognitive ability as young adults – challenging the assumption that living a sedentary lifestyle leads to problems only later in life," she says.

The research also provides potential insight into understanding why people who regularly engage in tend to function better on a cognitive level.

"I think the idea that young people do not have to worry about exercising since they are in their prime developmentally is rapidly being overturned by mounting evidence that even the brains of young adults can benefit from ," she says.

"The exercise could involve brisk walking or more vigorous activity, and could be made up of a few 10 minute bouts of exercise, rather than one single block of exercise," she says.

The researchers also found that body mass index was not a key factor in how well the brain functioned, indicating that regular engagement in physical activity may be more important than body weight.

Dr Machado says she had noticed over the years that university students appeared progressively less fit.

"I wondered whether we might find significant relationships between exercise levels, oxygen availability in the brain, and cognition in the young adults, but no studies had considered this in healthy ."

These findings come at a time of increased scientific focus on links between exercise and cognitive health in older adults. A recent paper in Neurobiology of Aging by Miranka Wirth and colleagues at the University of California in Berkeley indicates that exercise is an important factor in combating brain deterioration among aging adults.

Explore further: Aerobic exercise boosts brain power

More information: "Neuroprotective pathways: lifestyle activity, brain pathology, and cognition in cognitively normal older adults." Neurobiol Aging. 2014 Aug;35(8):1873-82. DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.02.015. Epub 2014 Feb 20.

Related Stories

Aerobic exercise boosts brain power

December 13, 2012
The physical benefits of regular exercise and remaining physically active, especially as we age, are well documented. However, it appears that it is not only the body which benefits from exercise, but the mind too. The evidence ...

Study finds cardiorespiratory fitness improves memory among older adults

December 22, 2014
Older adults who have greater heart and lung health also have better memory recall and cognitive capabilities. The study, which appears online in the Journal of Gerontology, examines the relationship between cardiorespiratory ...

Mind-body connection not a one-way street

January 7, 2015
We usually think our mind is in control and telling our body what to do. But there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows the chatter between mind and body goes two ways, and the body is an integral part of how we think. ...

Just 30 minutes of exercise has benefits for the brain

October 27, 2014
University of Adelaide neuroscientists have discovered that just one session of aerobic exercise is enough to spark positive changes in the brain that could lead to improved memory and coordination of motor skills.

Study shows that high-intensity training boosts cognitive function

October 29, 2012
A regular exercise routine can make you fitter than ever – mentally fit.

Aerobic fitness and hormones predict recognition memory in young adults

December 2, 2013
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found further evidence that exercise may be beneficial for brain health and cognition. The findings, which are currently available online in Behavioural Brain ...

Recommended for you

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.