Want to improve test scores or video game performance? Maybe the answer is to start a regular walking program. Healthy young women who exercised at least 5 days per week performed better on tests of cognitive function than peers who were less active, in a study by researchers at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Investigators conducted the study to further understand how regular exercise, brain health and cognitive performance are related in healthy young adults. The scientists measured brain oxygenation levels, because prior studies had shown that higher blood supply to the brain improves results on cognitive tasks. Fifty-two college-aged women participated. All subjects self-reported activity levels, took mental skills tests and were monitored for blood oxygenation levels in the brain.
The research team discovered that the oxygen supply in participants’ brains differed in the frontal lobe based on the level of exercise. Women who exercised more not only had better blood supply to the brain; they also performed better, particularly on a test that measured ability to respond to a problem strategically, with self-control, rather than reflexively. Frontal-lobe functions include planning, decision making and long-term memory retention.
The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. Lead study author Liana Machado, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Otago, said in a University of Otago news release, “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.”
Study findings are available in Psychophysiology (2014; doi: 10.1111/psyp.12394).