Unlocking the Power of the Brain
It is clear that pursuit of physical exercise (to a healthy degree) has positive changes to the way our bodies function. Every system in our body improves with exercise. The heart grows and becomes stronger. Our lungs are able to utilise the air we breathe more efficiently. Our muscles are able to work harder and faster. Most people are well aware of these benefits.
I do not believe much needs to be said of that topic anymore. Most people know. There is however, another aspect of exercise that I would like to illuminate. This is by no means a new concept, as research has been growing in this area for quite some time. This is just not commonly mentioned, but is of, in my opinion, fascinating importance.
Exercise as it turns out (both aerobic and resistance), cause observable differences in brain function and performance. Aerobic exercise in adolescents has been correlated with higher academic performance, such as in reading and mathematics. It has also been shown to increase reaction time and inhibitory control (or self-control).
But what about resistance exercise? The findings are not so dissimilar. If matched to an appropriate intensity (it has to be challenging), similar adaptations are seen compared to aerobic exercise. With the added benefit of increasing muscle mass – a key metric in quality of life across a lifetime.
What about structural changes? Just like how resistance training forces our muscles to grow, and aerobic training increases the number of mitochondria in our cells, what about structural changes within the brain? The findings are just as positive.
In aerobically trained adolescents, the hippocampal region is thicker in volume. This region of the brain is responsible for learning and memory. When matched with evidence that these individuals display higher performance in memory tasks, we can assume that these structural changes are part of the adaptation.
In resistance trained individuals, easy tasks were shown to require less cortical activity (or brain juice) for the same performance as compared to aerobically trained individuals. This might indicate that resistance training, compared to aerobic, assists us in automating problem solving.
As our world grows increasingly complex, our brain function becomes vital to the evolution of us as individuals, but also our contribution to society. It is clear (and will become even clearer), that a healthy dose of aerobic and resistance training serves us right up into the very structure of our brains. The role of movement can become so much more than keeping our bodies healthy. It can become a key component in improving cognitive performance, much like a fantastic book or a teacher.
If you’d like to read more about this research, please use these two articles as your start.