CogniFit's Science blog: Some Exercises Better Than Others For Your Brain

Some Exercises Better Than Others For Your Brain

Research with laboratory mice in Taiwan has shed some light on the link between exercise and improved brain function. It seems mice that were allowed to do their usual exercise of running around their rodent wheels as much as possible, improved their brain function.

But a second group of mice that were pushed harder on a mini-treadmill at a speed and duration controlled by the scientists, out-performed their lab mates in cognitive performance.

The mice that ran on the treadmills showed evidence of molecular changes in several portions of their brain, while the voluntary rodent-wheel runners showed changes in only one area. Different forms of exercise induce different neuroplasticity changes in different regions of the brain.

It has been known for a while that exercise changes the structure of the brain and that these changes affect thinking. But the researches wanted to know if aerobic exercise was better than weight lifting and whether the cognitive improvements were lasting.

Other experiments have shown that aerobic exercise seems to be better for cognitive skills than other types of exercises. In one experiment at the University of Illinois, elderly people were assigned a six-month program of either stretching exercises or one of brisk walking. The group that did the stretching improved their flexibility but they did not improve on cognition tests. The group that walked did improve cognitively.

It seems that different growth factors must come from different points in the body to create new neurons and new brain connections. For this to happen there must be a significant change in the flow of blood. Swimming, running or cycling produce this kind of increase in blood flow. Weight lifting stimulates the production of growth factors in muscles that tend to remain in the muscles and don’t find their way to the brain.

Going back to the mice, it seems that the mice that ran in their usual wheels were just having fun; they didn’t push themselves or strain at all. The mice on the treadmill, however, were pushed to their limits, and this more intense workout produced improvement in muscle aerobic capacity which affected the brain more than the wheel running.

Scientists warn that this doesn’t mean we have to engage in extremely strenuous workouts or put ourselves into the hands of relentless coaches. Human bodies may not be built exactly like mice bodies. The rule to still follow is the any form of regular exercise, if it is aerobic, should be able to help maintain brain functions in complement to an efficient brain training program.