Mental and physical exercises benefit the brain in different ways: Study

by L&D20 Jul 2016
If you are looking to boost your memory, then physical exercise is the way to go.

But if it’s your executive functions that needs improvement, then cognitive brain training is the better option.

That’s according to new Center for BrainHealth research at The University of Texas.

Their study has found that adults who participated in cognitive training demonstrated positive changes in executive brain function, as well as a 7.9% increase in global brain flow.

This was compared to those who participated in a physical exercise program.

However, the aerobic exercise group displayed increases in immediate and delayed memory performance that was not seen in the cognitive training group.

The randomised trial is the first to compare cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular reactivity data obtained via MRI.

"Many adults without dementia experience slow, continuous and significant age-related changes in the brain, specifically in the areas of memory and executive function, such as planning and problem-solving," said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, study lead author, and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth.

The Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor added that people can lose 1-2% in global brain blood flow every decade, starting in their 20s.

“To see almost an 8% increase in brain blood flow in the cognitive training group may be seen as regaining decades of brain health since blood flow is linked to neural health,” she said.

The study involved 36 sedentary adults aged between 56 and 75 years being placed into either a cognitive training or a physical training group.

"Most people tell me that they want a better memory and notice memory changes as they get older," said Dr. Mark D'Esposito, study co-author and professor of neuroscience and psychology, and director of the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

"While memory is important, executive functions such as decision-making and the ability to synthesise information are equally, if not more so, but we often take them for granted.”

The physical exercise group did not show significant global blood flow gains. However, the exercisers with improved memory performance showed higher cerebral blood flow in the bilateral hippocampi, an area underlying memory function and especially vulnerable to aging and dementia.

"This study highlights the potential to accelerate brain health in healthy adults by adopting lifestyle habits that exercise the mind and body,” said Chapman.

“Future trials are needed to further develop and test neuroprotective programs that unite physical and cognitive training protocols for the highest health returns starting early and continuing into late life."

The study is published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

L&D Professional also recently reported that people who exercised four hours after learning new material were found to retain information better two days later than those who exercised either immediately after learning or not at all.

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