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Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain

Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills.

How? Through the action of endocanabinoids, molecules known to increase synaptic plasticity. This study, in the journal Scientific Reports, highlights the virtues of sport for both health and education. School programs and strategies aimed at reducing the effects of neurodegeneration on memory could indeed benefit from it.

Very often, right after a sporting exercise—especially endurance such as running or cycling—one feels physical and psychological well-being. This feeling is due to endocannabinoids, small molecules produced by the body during physical exertion. "They circulate in the blood and easily cross the blood-brain barrier. They then bind to specialized cellular receptors and trigger this feeling of euphoria. In addition, these same molecules bind to receptors in the hippocampus, the main brain structure for memory processing," says Kinga Igloi, lecturer in the laboratory of Professor Sophie Schwartz, at UNIGE Faculty of Medicine's Department of Basic Neurosciences, who led this work. "But what is the link between sport and memory? This is what we wanted to understand," she continues.

To test the effect of sport on motor learning, scientists asked a group of 15 young and healthy men, who were not athletes, to take a memory test under three conditions of physical exercise: after 30 minutes of moderate cycling, after 15 minutes of intensive cycling (defined as 80% of their maximum heart rate), or after a period of rest. 

In addition to the results of the memory tests, the scientists observed changes in the activation of brain structures with functional MRI and performed blood tests to measure endocannabinoid levels. The different analyses concur: the faster individuals are, the more they activate their hippocampus (the brain area of memory) and the caudate nucleus (a brain structure involved in motor processes). Moreover, their endocannabinoid levels follow the same curve: the higher the level after intense physical effort, the more the brain is activated and the better the brain's performance. "These molecules are involved in synaptic plasticity, i.e. the way in which neurons are connected to each other, and thus may act on long-term potentiation, the mechanism for optimal consolidation of memory," says Blanca Marin Bosch.

In a previous study, the research team had already shown the positive effect of sport on another type of memory, associative memory. But, contrary to what is shown here, they had observed that a sport session of moderate intensity, not high intensity, produced better results. Thus, just as not all forms of memory use the same brain mechanisms, not all sports intensities have the same effects. It should be noted that in all cases, physical exercise improves memory more than inaction.

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