If you are partaking in regular bouts of exercise,you can expect to experience a range of benefits, like the burning of excess fat, lower risk of heart trouble and a healthier state of mind. Recently, however, scientific studies have started to shine a light on how regular physical activity can benefit human health in more subtle ways, some of which you might not expect. Let's take a look at some interesting examples.
Enhanced learning from a single workout
The idea of going jogging to clear one's mind or de-stress after a tough day at work isn't new, but a big part of our growing knowledge around the benefits of exercise is a better understanding of its effects on cognition. In 2019, scientists at Oregon Health & Science University looked at a very specific example of this by zeroing in on the potential neuronal changes that can take place after a single exercise session.
The experiments were conducted on mice, which were subjected to an exercise session equivalent to a game of basketball. Just one hour later, the mice exhibited enhanced synaptic activity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. The team also discovered heightened expression of a gene involved in synapse formation, which was found to promote new synaptic connections between neurons. The upshot? A single exercise session before a college class or important work meeting might just help you learn and retain important information. Just don't forget to squeeze in a shower.
Boosting brain plasticity through high-intensity training
Last year, we learned of another way exercise can improve cognitive function, with a group of researchers at the University of South Australia turning their attention to neuroplasticity. Similarly, this refers to the brain's ability to rewire neural connections as we move through life and experience new environments, form new memories and learn new skills.
The scientists set out to learn what types of exercise can most benefit the development and maintenance of these vital pathways, by subjecting health participants to a range of workouts. They used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to monitor the subjects' neuroplasticity throughout and found the most profound changes were after either 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or 25 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise. So, if brain plasticity is the name of your game, then it might be time to turn up the tempo.
Fighting brain degeneration associated with dementia
Fending off anxiety and building a bigger brain
Research has shown how aerobic exercise can help alleviate chronic anxiety, but a recent study from scientists at the University of California, Riverside revealed how forming healthy habits early in life can help prevent it later in life, and even lead to larger brains as adults.
The scientists subjected young mice to unhealthy diets and gave them no access to exercise, and another group was given healthy diets and regular exercise, with the groups compared once the rodents reached sexual maturity. Despite both groups eating healthy diets from that point onwards, the mice that exercised and ate well during early life exhibited less anxious behavior as adults, and also featured increased muscle and brain mass.