The benefits of regular exercise are manifold. From combatting health conditions and disease to improving mood, energy and weight management, it is hard to ignore the importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
An exciting new study has uncovered a further benefit: it bolsters learning.
Researchers found that aerobic exercise, such as running or swimming, has positive effects on brain structure and function. Sustained aerobic exercise was found to increase the neuron reserve of the hippocampus, a brain structure important in learning.
Researchers from the Department of Psychology and from the Department of Biology of Physical Activity at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland studied the effects of sustained running exercise, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and resistance training on adult hippocampal neurogenesis in adult male rats.
Rats that underwent six to eight weeks of running, HIIT or resistance training were measured against control animals, which remained in sedentary conditions. The results indicated that the highest number of new hippocampal neurons was observed in rats that ran long distances.
The results also proved that resistance training had no such effect, and the effects of HIIT were minor. This indicates that only sustained aerobic exercise improves hippocampal neurogenesis.
This result is important because the new hippocampal neurons produced as a result of neurogenesis are needed for learning temporally and for spatially complex tasks. It is possible that by promoting neurogenesis through sustained aerobic exercise, the neuron reserve of the hippocampus can be increased and, therefore, the preconditions for learning improved.
Source: Journal of Physiology