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Exercise Vital for Brain Health

In a new review article highlighting the results of more than a hundred recent human and animal studies, psychology doctoral candidate Michelle W. Voss of the University of Illinois and her colleagues show that both aerobic exercise and strength training play a vital role in maintaining brain and cognitive health throughout life.

The method by which exercise improves brain health is, however, less well understood than the physiology associated with exercise-induced improvements to our heart and muscles.

The review suggests that aerobic exercise is important for getting a head start during childhood on cognitive abilities that are important throughout life. In this group, studies suggest exercise improves memory, attention, and decision-making.

These effects also extend to young and elderly adults, with evidence supporting aerobic training as improving multitasking, planning, and inhibition, as well as increasing the volume of brain structures important for memory.

Although few studies have evaluated the effects of strength training on brain health in children, studies in older adults suggest that high-intensity and high-load training can improve memory.

Animal studies, primarily models that test the influence of aerobic exercise, suggest a variety of mechanisms responsible for these effects. For example, exercise appears to change brain structure, prompting the growth of new nerve cells and blood vessels. It also increases the production of neurochemicals that promote growth, differentiation, survival, and repair of brain cells.

Although a review of studies clearly supports the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain, it also highlights gaps in the scientific literature.

For example, the review authors note that more research is needed on how different types of exercise (aerobic, strength training, flexibility) might promote different effects on brain health and cognition.

The good news is that we have clear evidence supporting exercise for brain and body health. Still, studies are needed to learn the physiology, or the way in which exercise helps the body and especially the brain, improve itself.

The article is published in the online edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Source: American Physiological Society

Exercise Vital for Brain Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Exercise Vital for Brain Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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