Exercise Improves Cognitive Function
‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’ is a long held belief. However, the statement did not have any empirical evidence to support until recent times. Now that evidence is available it is high time that Indian society learns from it and stops making children slaves to tuition and marks obsession. I have discussed the topic of Exercising in a manner that is comprehensible to a non technical brain.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function: Empirical Evidence
Empirical evidence now has proven the following important aspects:
- Cognitive benefits of physical exercise last for decades. This implies that the cognitive benefits of running/swimming you did in school would continue till your middle age.
- There is a positive correlation between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) & cognitive ability at all ages, from children to old adults. Veteran athletes are not only fitter than their non athletic counterparts, but also smarter!
- Tests have proven that individuals having better CRF have better verbal memory, executive functioning (working memory capacity, analytical and critical reasoning skills, multitasking flexibility, planning, executing, and problem-solving ability), and psychomotor speed (the association between thinking and doing) than non exercising counterparts.
- Exercising prevents the onset of mental ailments like dementia & Alzheimer’s in old adults.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function: Physiological Explanation
- Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain. It enhances the functionality of various neurotransmitters involved in the cognitive processes. This mood enhancing effects of exercise also aid cognition.
- Exercise triggers the production of a muscle protein called FNDC5 in the body. This protein is released into the bloodstream as a molecule called irisin. The presence of this molecule stimulates the genes responsible for learning and memory. Right now, scientists are somewhat unclear as to how the mechanism works, but they believe that exercise triggers the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF regulates inflammation, improves the transmission of signals within cells, and regulates the functions of the synapses. BDNF is also believed to exert neuroprotective benefits that stall the death of brain cells. Scientists are already toying with the idea of developing drugs that can trigger its development to manage the symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, or those caused by stroke and depression.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function: Logical Explanation
Sporting activities are known to improve cognition. This aspect is widely believed, but has not been empirically proved .Apart from the empirically proven benefits there are other cognitive benefits. These have been explained with logic.
- In most sports a player visualizes first & then acts. A Golfer will visualise a shot before execution; similarly a footballer will do so before taking a free kick, or a bowler bowling in Cricket. Visualizing is a tremendous brain exercise having vast utility in various spheres of our lives.
- Both in individual & team sport we plan to score/ defend goals. This is a great mental exercise of value in daily life.
- Anticipating & out thinking opponents. This is a great mental ongoing activity in practically all sports.
- Improve hand-eye coordination, sense of balance & body control. These are also mental functions being learned by the brain subconsciously in a three dimensional environment when we play sports. It is not possible to learn these by sitting on a chair & reading.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function- Final Words
From the above discussion the cognitive benefits of exercise & sports would be clear. Thus we should resolve to:
- Encourage our children to exercise & play sports.
- Get on with an exercise or physical sports regimen, whatever our age. Cross words, Chess & Bridge do not provide the brain the 3 D environment for cognitive growth which physical sports provide.
- Remember that sports & exercise not only have health & social benefits, but also tremendous cognitive benefits. Thus making you fitter, happier & smarter!