Consistent cardiovascular exercise not only strengthens your heart, lungs and skeletal muscles, but it also boosts your brain power, increasing grey matter and improving cognition. Here are some of the mental benefits of exercise.
Learn New Things
Does your New Year’s resolution involve learning a new skill? You might want to add a daily dose of exercise to the list. Researchers found that mice who voluntarily engaged in wheel running for one month were quicker at mastering a maze task than the sedentary control group. Scientists speculate that exercise-induced neurogenesis—the birth of new neurons from neural stem cells and neural progenitor cells—may contribute to these improvements, although the exact elements of learning that were impacted by exercise remained unclear in these studies.
Stay Sharp as You Age
Aging is what happens to other people, right? Like your great-grandparents, the ones you had to remind repeatedly what your name was and what grade you were in. Fortunately, research suggests that age-related mental decline isn’t inevitable. A study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry followed a group of healthy older individuals, aged 65 plus, over a period of two years and found that those who engaged in even mild exercise on a regular basis showed significant improvement in attentional shift, which is the ability to shift focus from one topic to another, maintain concentration and resist distraction by irrelevant information. Additionally, the exercise group displayed preservation of prefrontal volume, the part of the brain involved in complex cognition, personality, decision making, social behavior, concentration, abstract thinking, judgment and problem solving. Bonus, the improved mental abilities persisted for six months after the conclusion of the study.
Improve Reaction Time
Across all age groups, acute and sustained bouts of cardiovascular exercise also improve the ability to react quickly to external stimuli. That’s valuable for riders who want to improve performance in other recreational activities, but the benefits extend beyond that. Everyday tasks such as driving, caring for children or navigating a busy subway require the ability to process information and respond rapidly.
Behavioral Neuroscience. “Exercise Improves Memory Acquisition and Retrieval in the Y-Maze Task: Relationship With Hippocampal Neurogenesis” 2007, Vol. 121, No. 2, 324–334http://gbb.eldoc.ub.rug.nl/FILES/root/2007/BehavNeurscivdBorght/2007BehavNeuroscivdBorght.pdfInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. “Long-term mild-intensity exercise regimen preserves prefrontal cortical volume against aging.” 2014 Oct 29. doi: 10.1002/gps.4205. [Epub ahead of print]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25353992Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. “Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment.” 2008 Apr 16;(2):CD005381. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005381.pub2.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18425918Psychology of Aging. “Exercise Holds Immediate Benefits for Affect and Cognition in Younger and Older Adults.” Jun 2013; 28(2): 587–594. doi: 10.1037/a0032634http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768113/