When you exercise, your muscles release molecules that can ultimately get into your brain. Once inside, studies have shown, they can stimulate the brain to grow new neurons. Which raises a tantalizing question: Can exercise make you smarter?
Researchers have known for decades that aerobic exercise is good for the human brain. In a breakthrough discovery, scientists have now honed in on a specific molecule called irisin that is produced in the brain during endurance exercise through a chain reaction. Irisin is believed to have neuroprotective effects.
The blood flow to the brain is increased while exercising. The fitter one is, the more the blood flow increases. The research looked at adults with an average age of 49 who were inactive and overweight. The participants went through a series of biological, physiological and cognitive tests prior to the program began so as to establish their body composition, cognitive functions, brain oxygenation while exercising, cardiovascular risk and maximal aerobic ability.
The cognitive tests involved tasks like remembering pairs of symbols and numbers. To determine what was in fact happening inside the brain, the study made use of near-infra red spectroscopy, a method which works with near-infra red range light sent though human tissue which reacts with oxygen inside the blood. It’s so sensitive that it picks up the minute changes in the oxygenation and volume of blood that take place in our brains whenever we think or exercise. They then started a circuit weight training and exercise bike routine twice a week. After 4 months their fat mass, body mass index, weight and waist circumference were all considerably lower. At the same time, their ability to exercise was up 15%.
Cognitive function, brain oxygenation and VO2max for the duration of exercise testing showed that cognitive functions had significantly improved on account of the exercise. VO2max is the optimum capacity of a person’s body to transport and make use of oxygen while exercising. It influences the body’s capability to oxygenate the brain and is associated with cognitive function. Basically, the more they could exercise, and the more weight people lost, the sharper they became.
Although a decline in cognitive function is a typical part of aging, it’s reassuring to know that one can at least to some extent prevent that decline by losing weight and exercising.