Study finds best exercise to stretch your brain

Scientists find that ‘changing it up’ is the type of training that is ideal for your brain.

tying up shoes before a quick run in the country

High-intensity interval training and continuous moderate exercise deliver greater mental benefits to the brain than sustained strenuous exercise, a South Australian study has found.

Researchers from the University of South Australia in Adelaide conducted multiple experiments involving 128 people whose brains were monitored after a single bout of aerobic exercise on a stationary bike and treadmill.

The experiments ranged from low-intensity continuous exercise to high-intensity interval exercise, with the heart rate varying between 50 and 90 per cent intensity.

UniSA researcher Dr Ashleigh Smith and her PhD student Maddison Mellow found that the greatest changes in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire or modify its neural connections – occurred with 20 minutes of interval training or 25 minutes of continuous moderate aerobic exercise.

Dr Smith said cycling or running at full speed without mixing up the tempo may elevate the stress hormone, cortisol, blocking the positive effects.

“We already know that engaging in regular aerobic exercise is good for the brain, improving memory, attention and learning,” she said.

“However, we need to understand why it is so beneficial and what the best exercise, intensity and duration is.”

Dr Smith said cortisol appeared to play a major role in whether an exercise was mentally beneficial. She said high cortisol levels blocked neuroplastic responses, yet interval training may allow a sweet spot for cortisol rates to return to normal levels, the researchers say.

“What makes the brain special is that, unlike a computer, it processes sensory and motor signals in parallel,” Dr Smith said.

“It has many neural pathways that can replicate another’s function so that if the brain is damaged it can re-route signals along a different pathway. The more elastic the brain, the easier this is.”

Mellow said neuroplasticity drove the brain’s development, from infancy to adulthood, helping to learn new skills, form memories and recover from brain injuries or stroke.

“Long-term studies demonstrate that people who engage in regular exercise show greater neural connectivity than those who are sedentary. Research also shows that exercising before learning a new motor skill can help a person learn it much faster,” she said.

The researchers’ findings have been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport

What type of exercise do you do? Should you be exercising more?

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COMMENTS

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The Sheriff
7th Feb 2020
11:18am
Thank you Ashleigh and Maddison from the Uni of South Australia for your report on turbo charging our brains. We oldsters appreciate all the encouragement and knowledge we can get.
Rod63
7th Feb 2020
11:18am
I had been doing a lot of steady pace runs of 5 to 10km but lately have changed to do some interval work - hill sprints, fartlek, 100-200m reps.

I will do one longer run of 60 -45 minutes, though, once a week. On Saturdays I do parkrun and then Sunday whatever the distance is for our club race (mostly 5 - 12km). The weekend runs are always done as fast as I can do them.

I do it mainly for cardio benefits, to improve my fitness and speed.

If there are people who have been thinking of starting/increasing their exercise, I would thoroughly recommend parkrun: https://www.parkrun.com.au/
Rod63
7th Feb 2020
11:54am
I'm nearly 68 by the way.
Aggle
7th Feb 2020
6:50pm
I'd second the parkrun suggestion Rod63. Not only is it great for fitness, cardio etc., but it's great for your state of mind from the weekly social contact and maybe the coffee afterwards. I look forward to seeing the regulars each week and trying to improve my PB. I run in the 70-74 age group and enjoy running as much as I ever have, even though my speed isn't startling by any means.
Ted Wards
7th Feb 2020
11:18am
Five times a week, three strength training as I have scoliosis, a degenerative joint condition is my spine, and kyphosis. Twice a week I do cardio and once a week strength yoga. I walk every day because I don't own a car. I've lost 60 kilos and am now a trained health coach. Age is no reason to be unhealthy and overweight. At 55 Im in the best shape ever!
Rod63
7th Feb 2020
11:53am
You're still a "spring chicken", Ted.

Sounds like you are doing a great job. Congratulations on that huge weight loss.
rtrish
7th Feb 2020
11:31am
I see the programs about high interval training. However I have several chronic conditions and the training is beyond my capabilities. So I do what I can: walk briskly most days (my brother says I go at a fair clip!) and do Pilates once a week.
MJM
7th Feb 2020
12:14pm
Walk,gym ,aqua aerobics, swim , bike ride , eat sleep repeat.....
Mitzy
7th Feb 2020
12:25pm
Shame the study doesn't tell us how long the effect lasts for after such exercise. Is it only for the 20 minutes they mention??
Teacher
6th Mar 2020
11:32pm
Have done some form of exercise (mostly sport) all my life. Now, for the last 29 years I have been tapdancing with a group twice a week and performing in concerts in nursing homes, retirement villages and in big shows for various charities. However, I do not, and cannot maintain, walking as an exercise. I cannot understand this, but think it must be that I am not exercising my brain as well when walking whereas I am continually learning new routines with the tap dancing which requires a lot of brain action at the same time as the motor skills.
Teacher
6th Mar 2020
11:32pm
Have done some form of exercise (mostly sport) all my life. Now, for the last 29 years I have been tapdancing with a group twice a week and performing in concerts in nursing homes, retirement villages and in big shows for various charities. However, I do not, and cannot maintain, walking as an exercise. I cannot understand this, but think it must be that I am not exercising my brain as well when walking whereas I am continually learning new routines with the tap dancing which requires a lot of brain action at the same time as the motor skills.


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