Aerobic Exercise & Brain Health

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The benefits of physical activity and habitual aerobic exercise on cognitive function and brain  health are becoming increasingly appreciated both by the scientific community and the general  public. However, guidelines for establishing public health recommendations remain unclear due  to a lack of knowledge regarding the exact mechanisms through which exercise benefits brain  function.  

In a study, reported in the July 2015 issue of MSSE, it was found that 30 minutes of stationary  aerobic cycling improved the subjects ability to mentally store and update multiple features of  information (i.e., working memory). Although their working memory accuracy improved by ~6.4  percent, there were no significant changes in their ability to exert control over irrelevant  information (i.e., inhibitory control). Furthermore, no changes in either task occurred when the  same participants completed a passive exercise control condition in which their legs were moved  by motorized pedals on the same bike and at the same cadence as in the aerobic condition. 

Based on these findings, it is suggested that actively engaging the musculoskeletal and  cardiovascular systems at a moderate intensity, rather than moving passively, affects brain  systems involved in working memory processes. This was observed in the acute phase after one  exercise session. Future investigations that combine acute and chronic exercise paradigms within  the same individuals may provide insight into how the specificity of acute effects contributes to  long-term adaptations that accumulate with subsequent training.  

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