Exercise is a time-honored cornerstone of physical health. Regular workouts strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Exercise slows the aging process and alleviates mental conditions like depression and anxiety. Groundbreaking studies reveal that moderate exercise can also significantly increase your cognitive performance. You can improve your overall health with a combination of daily aerobic and resistance exercises.

Benefits of Regular and Sustained Exercise

A 14-week study in 2007 investigated the impact of exercise on the cognition and academic performance of children. The Medical College of Georgia scientists randomly assigned the students to participate in one of three different groups. One group exercised 40 minutes each day, and a second group received 20 minutes of exercise. The third group did not engage in physical activity. Each child completed a standardized test at the beginning of the study. The children played tag and other games. Testing conducted at the end of the study demonstrated that the children in the 40-minute exercise group experienced greater cognitive gains that the other groups. In addition to higher test scores, they demonstrated improvement in their overall thought processes.

Aerobic Exercise Offers Superior Cognitive Benefits

An April 2009 study evaluated the effects of 30 minutes of aerobic or resistance exercise on 21 healthy young adult volunteers. The University of Illinois researchers administered memory assessments, which measured the volunteers’ accuracy and reaction time before and after exercise. The aerobic exercise group achieved shorter reaction times immediately after exercising and up to 30 minutes later. They also demonstrated a significant reduction in reaction time for cognitive tasks that required greater working memory capacity. The results for the resistance group were unchanged. Other studies indicate that high- and moderate-intensity resistance exercises are beneficial for cognitive performance.

Exercise Promotes Growth of New Brain Cells and Connections

Exercise increases the presence of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). The substance is a protein that triggers a process known as neurogenesis, the formation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. This portion of the brain is responsible for learning and memory. The protein also protects your existing nerve cells and increases the number of connections that they use to communicate. BDNF enhances the ability to store and process information. A healthy neural network reduces the risk for degenerative nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Exercise Provides Cognitive Benefits Throughout Life

A 2010 study published in the Journal of American of Geriatrics Society evaluated the effects of physical activity on cognitive health. The researchers compiled the lifetime history of physical activity of 9,344 female volunteers who were 65 years or older. Volunteers who were physically active had a lower incidence of cognitive decline than women who reported being physically inactive. Women who were active as teenagers had the lowest risks of cognitive impairment. The researchers reported that women who became physically active as adults had a lower risk for cognitive decline than women who were inactive throughout life.