Exercise Improves Brain Function

Researchers Art Kramer and Laura Chaddock, from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, have found that children that are aerobically fitter perform better at memory tests than their less fit peers. The improvement in brain function is linked to an increased hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is a structure deep within the brain that is involved with learning and memory. This would suggest that exercise plays a crucial role in the brain development of children.

As we age, there is a natural decline in our mental function. However, studies have shown that this process can be slowed or even reversed! Dr Kirk Erickson conducted a 9 year follow-up study that demonstrated that increased exercise, in the form of walking, was associated with greater grey matter volume and less cognitive impairment. This can have dramatic effects on our ability to lead normal independent lives well into our old age.

The reason for the beneficial influence of exercise on brain growth and function may be due to a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). It supports the survival of existing nerve cells and promotes the growth of new ones and increases the levels of circulating BDNF.

These findings support the promotion of life-long exercise. I guess this sheds new light on the old Roman adage: “a healthy mind in a healthy body”!