A New Zealand study has found that due to the increased oxygen flow to the brain that it induces, physical activity may improve mental prowess in young women.
Although the study’s lead researcher, Liana Machado of the University of Otago, said that it couldn’t be proved that exercise makes you smarter, it was a reasonable conclusion to draw based on the findings.
Previous research has shown a link between levels of physical activity in older adults, increased blood flow to the brain and mental agility, but little research has focused on whether the effect was evident in younger people.
For the new study, the researchers studied 52 healthy young women aged between 18 and 30 years. Brain imaging showed that the oxygen supply in study subjects’ brains varied according to exercise habits. A series of mental tests showed that women who exercised most frequently had more oxygen circulating in the frontal lobe.
Machado said ‘it seems reasonable to deduce that a causal relationship likely exists – where regular physical activity increases oxygen availability in the brain, which in turn supports better cognitive performance, particularly for more challenging tasks.’
Commenting on the study, Sandra Bond Chapman, chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, said that it is also possible that the relationship operates in an opposite way, i.e. that the women who displayed better mental agility were more likely to choose healthy habits because the frontal lobe is involved in ‘orchestrating a plan.’