Physical exercise isn’t just great for your health. It is also an effective way improve cognitive performance and mental fitness according to new research.
A study led by Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Beckman Institute, a team of research analysts found increased aerobic fitness is associated with an increase of fibrous and compact white brain matter, a type of nerve tissue linked to learning and brain function. Previous research shows compact white matter fibers can result in improved cognitive performance.
“Our work has important implications for educational and public health policies, as sedentary behaviors and inactivity rise and physical activity opportunities are reduced or eliminated during the school day,” Chaddock-Heyman says. “Hopefully these findings will reinforce the importance of aerobic fitness during development and lead to additional physical activity opportunities in and out of the school environment.”
The researchers used a kind of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyze five different white matter tracts in the brains of two dozen 9- and 10-year-olds, half who were more physically fit and one-half were less physically fit.White matter also works to transport nerve signals between various areas of the brain, and every one of the tracts examined has been associated with attention and memory, according to the research.
Just one-quarter of North American youths presently take part in the suggested amount of daily physical exercise, based on the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. That may have a poor effect on their academics, according to the research. Prior research has shown increased fitness can enhance students’ memory and learning, but this new research is the first ever to show a link between conditioning and brain composition in youths.
“We know from previous work that higher fit children outperform lower fit children on tasks of attention, memory and school performance,” Chaddock-Heyman says. “Thus, it is possible that white matter structure is another pathway by which fitness relates to improved cognition.” The study was publicized in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The researchers intend to conduct a five-year study to ascertain whether children’s white matter structure increases when they start and keep maintaining a new conditioning routine. “Be smart, and exercise your heart,” Chaddock-Heyman says. “High levels of physical fitness are not only good for one’s physical health but one’s cognitive and brain health as well.”