Scientists Say this Is the Single Most Effective Exercise for Your Brain
Any form of physical activity is great for your health but, when it comes to bulking up the brain, not all exercises are equally beneficial. Scientists took three of the most popularly followed exercises to see how they stacked up against each other in terms of neurological benefits, and surprisingly, one form of physical activity completely blew the rest out of the water.
Neurogenesis in Mature Brain
Scientists say that exercise doesn’t only change the shape of your body, but also the structure of the brain. Previous studies have shown that the brain increases in volume and the number of holes in the two different matters related to old age, are reduced significantly due to physical activity.
Perhaps, one of the biggest neurological benefits of exercise is the creation of new brain cells in adulthood through the process of neurogenesis. It was traditionally believed that this process stopped after the embryonic development and no regeneration within the brain occurs once it matures, but the theory was proven false by modern neuroscientists who say that certain activities such as exercise can promote neurogenesis even in adulthood.
Neuron Development Due to Exercise
To understand the impact of exercise on the brain, researchers did an experiment with rats where they were made to run on a treadmill or running wheel, and their brain functioning was monitored before and after completing the exercise. What they discovered was that the number of neurons in the animals had tripled after the exercise. The increase was more prominent in the area of the brain called hippocampus, which is associated with memory and learning. A similar test done on humans revealed identical results.
Most researches conduced in the past to study the effects of physical activity on neurogenesis have been limited to only running or walking. However, as other forms of exercise such as weigh training, high-intensity workouts and yoga grow in popularity, scientists are increasingly curious to discover if these have a similar impact on neurogenesis like running.
Comparing Various Forms of Exercise
A group of Finnish researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla set out on a hunt to discover the best exercise for brain health. In their recent study published in Journal of Physiology, a large number of rats was divided into several groups and were made to perform different forms of physical activities including running, resistance training, and intense interval training.
One group of rats remained sedentary to act as a control, while the running group was provided with wheels to run as much as they wanted. Small weights were attached to the rats in the resistance training groups and most of their exercise involved wall-climbing. The intensity-interval group was made to run at a very fast pace on the treadmill for a few minutes followed by a minute of walking at a moderate pace, repeating the sequence for a few more times.
All the rats were injected with a substance that highlighted the production of new brain cells in order for the researchers to compare neural growth in different exercise groups. Surprisingly, each group showed a different level of neurogenesis after the experiment was over.
And the Winner is…
Rats from the resistance training group showed almost no signs of neurogenesis, making the exercise the poorest choice among the others for brain development. Those who participated in high intensity interval training did show a small amount of neurogenesis but it wasn’t significant compared to the rats who ran at a steady pace. Surprisingly, the group which only jogged at a moderate speed on the wheel showed the greatest brain cell development in their hippocampus – even more robust than that in the running rats.
The lead author of the study, Miriam Nokia, said that even though high intensity interval training and strength training are the most respected forms of exercise for physical conditioning in the fitness community, they aren’t necessarily the most ideal for neural conditioning. It isn’t clear why sustained aerobic exercises are better for the brain than the rest but researchers think that it may have something to do with the production of BDNF, a hormone which increases the production of neurons in the brain.
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