To each their own: Cognitive, aerobic exercises impact brain differently

  • IANS, New York
  • Updated: Jul 19, 2016 17:16 IST
While cognitive brain training improves our planning and problem-solving ability, aerobic activity boosts our memory. (Shutterstock)

Physical and mental exercises impact our brain differently, finds a new study.

According to it, while cognitive brain training improves our planning and problem-solving ability, aerobic activity boosts our memory.

“Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways,” said study co-author Mark D’Esposito, Professor at University of California, Berkeley in the US.

The study found that healthy adults who participated in an aerobic exercise program demonstrated positive changes in executive brain function after participating in cognitive training.

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The aerobic exercise group showed increases in immediate and delayed memory performance that were not seen in the cognitive training group.

“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,” study lead author Sandra Bond Chapman, Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, noted.

Participants in the cognitive training group also demonstrated a 7.9 per cent increase in overall brain blood flow compared to study counterparts in the aerobic group.

Mental, physical exercises boost brain in different ways, say researchers. (Shutterstock)

“We can lose 1-2% in global brain blood flow every decade, starting in our 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.

For the study, 36 sedentary adults, between ages 56-75 years, were randomised into either a cognitive training or a physical training group.

Each group took part in training three hours per week over 12 weeks.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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The research team attributes the cerebral blood flow gains to concerted mental effort during the reasoning training.

“We believe the reasoning training triggered neural plasticity by engaging the brain networks involved in staying focused on a goal, such as writing a brief business proposal, while continuously adapting to new information, such as feedback from a collaborator,” Chapman said.

The aerobic 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 particularly vulnerable to aging and dementia.

“Our research has shown that all brain training protocols do not return equal benefits,” Chapman said.

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