These days, we hear a lot about the cognitive benefits of exercise. A recent research review examined 72 studies (including literature reviews and meta-analytic reviews) to clarify the relationship between exercise and cognition.

Investigators concluded that skill acquisition, whether combined with physical energy expenditure or not, offers the largest cognitive benefit. Examples of physical activities that include skill acquisition are practicing dance moves or learning a sport like golf. Boosting learner autonomy by providing choices during training increases mental engagement and processing even more.

Exercise that does not stimulate skill development can increase cerebrovascular and neurotrophic factors, benefiting what some researchers describe as “brain hardware.” Adding skill acquisition also benefits “brain software,” delivering a 1–2 combination that improves both physical brain health and cognitive performance.

Find the study in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin (2019; 145 [9], 929–51).