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21 January 2015 - MNT - Exercise improves brain function in young adults

Catharine Paddock

Regular exercise improves brain activity in young adults, says a new study. The conclusion runs counter to the popular belief that because they are in their prime and the peak of their cognitive ability, young adult brains do not benefit from exercise in the same way as older brains.

There is already a lot of evidence that aerobic exercise improves brain function in older adults, but how it affects young adults is somewhat unclear.

The new study found that young women who exercised regularly had higher oxygen availability in the frontal lobe of the brain and performed best on difficult cognitive tasks compared to counterparts who exercised less.

For their study, the team enrolled 52 healthy female university students aged 18-30 and asked them to complete a range of computer-based cognitive tests while they measured their oxygen availability in the frontal lobe of their brain. The researchers also asked them questions about how often they exercised.

Dr. Machado says their "surprising" findings show that both blood supply to the brain and cognitive function seem to improve when young adults exercise regularly, and notes:

"This provides compelling evidence that regular exercise, at least 5 days per week, is a way to sharpen our cognitive ability as young adults - challenging the assumption that living a sedentary lifestyle leads to problems only later in life."

The team also found that body mass index (BMI) was not a key factor in how well the participants performed in cognitive tests, suggesting that regular exercise may be more important than body weight.

Dr. Machado says the exercise could be brisk walking or more vigorous exercise. And you don't have to do it in one go, "a few 10-minute bouts of exercise, rather than one single block of exercise," is as beneficial, she adds.