Exercise and Cognition

Exercise can be a powerful promoter of brain health, and improve many markers of cognition including attention and mood. Equally, the power of the mind (attention, motivation, fatigue) can be key determinants of exercise performance.

Exercise and Mood

A study involving 63 participants with median age 20-29 (mostly students and staff at a university) showed that aerobic exercise and aerobic dance had a positive effect on mood, compared to watching a videos in a relaxed setting. In this study, half of the participants were did aerobic exercise (50% male, median age 25-29) while the other half of the participants did aerobic dance (80% female, median age 20-24). Figure 1 shows that there are greater score improvements in self-reported mood after doing exercise compared to watching videos.1

steinberg_exercise_mood

Figure 1. Adults exhibit improvements in mood after exercise. The effect is greater than that obtained through watching videos.

A study involving 256 females of child-bearing age found that exercise resulted in significantly lower levels of negative mood across all stages of the menstrual cycle. Mood was measured with the Menstrual Distress Questionnaire (MDQ) and the Differential Emotions Scale (DES-IV).2

aganoff_exercise_menstrual_mood

Consistent levels of exercise resulted in improvements in negative mood states (as measured by the menstrual distress questionnaire) across all stages of the menstrual cycle in females. On this chart, lower scores are better (indicating lower levels of self-reported negative mood).

A study in 26 healthy adults, showed that aerobic exercise in the form of running, leads to significant higher levels of positive affect, as measured by self-report scales. In this study, the individuals engaged in 30 minutes of running activity for 3 times a week over a period of 6 weeks.3

stroth_exercise_positive_affect Exercise in the form of running was shown to lead to greater amounts of positive affect (mood) in healthy adults as measured post-training (T2) compared to baseline (T1).

Exercise and Memory

Exercise has been shown to improve memory in healthy adults. In a study of 26 healthy adults, it was found that those individuals who engage in consistent aerobic exercise in the form of running, scored significantly higher on a visuospatial memory task compared to control individuals. In this study, the individuals engaged in 30 minutes of running activity for 3 times a week over a period of 6 weeks.3

stroth_exercise_visuospatial_memory Exercise in the form of running was shown to lead to improved performance in visuospatial memory in healthy adults

Exercise and Creativity

A study involving 63 participants with median age 20-29 (mostly students and staff at a university) showed that aerobic exercise and aerobic dance had a positive effect on creativity, compared to watching a videos in a relaxed setting. In this study, half of the participants were did aerobic exercise (50% male, median age 25-29) while the other half of the participants did aerobic dance (80% female, median age 20-24). The below figure shows that there are greater score improvements on creativity tests after doing exercise compared to watching videos.1steinberg_exercise_creativity

Adults exhibit improvements in creativity after exercise. The effect is greater than that obtained through watching videos.

In older adults, the combination of exercise and high fat diet was found to significantly reduce levels of the inflammatory biomarker beta-amyloid, which plays a role in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis and carries effects on memory and executive functions.4

baker_exercise_diet_MCI Older adults who engaged in physical activity, combined with a high fat/high glycemic index diet, were found to exhibit decreases in beta-amyloid, an inflammatory biomarker that plays a role in mild cognitive impairment (impairments in memory and executive function).

Physiology

Exercise is known to play a role in cognition because it activates molecular signaling cascades. Certain molecules crucial in cognition are found to be modulated by exercise, the most important ones of which are neurotophins. Neurotrophins such as brain derived neurotophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) are signaling molecules that are involved in maintaining growth of neurons.

The effect of exercise on biomarker levels has been studied widely in animals. In rats, it was found that exercise over a period of 6 weeks led to a significant increase in BDNF levels in the hippocampus compared to intermittent fasting (fasting every other day).5The hippocampus plays a role in regulating both memory and emotion.

cotman_exercise_bdnf Exercise in the form of aerobic distance running is positively correlated to increased BDNF levels in the hippocampus

Glucagon-like peptide-1 has been found to be associated with cognitive deficits in elderly patients with Alzheimer's disease as well as diabetic patients. While exact pathogenesis for cognitive decline is not known, higher GLP-1 levels in cerebrospinal fluid have been associated with lower levels of beta-amyloid.6,7

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