Some physical exercises may also be good for your brain as researchers have found that high intensity exercise may lead to better memory.
The study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, could have implications for an ageing population which is grappling with the growing problem of catastrophic diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In the experiment, six weeks of intense exercise – short bouts of interval training over the course of 20 minutes – showed significant improvements in what is known as high-interference memory, which, for example, allows us to distinguish our car from another of the same make and model.
The findings are important because memory performance of the study participants, who were all healthy young adults, increased over a relatively short period of time, the researchers said.
They also found that participants who experienced greater fitness gains also experienced greater increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth, function and survival of brain cells.
“Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance,” said lead author of the study Jennifer Heisz, Assistant Professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
“At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she said.
For the study, 95 participants completed six weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training or no training (the control group which did neither and remained sedentary).
Both the exercise and combined training groups improved performance on a high-interference memory task, while the control group did not.
Researchers measured changes in aerobic fitness, memory and neurotrophic factor, before and after the study protocol.
The results revealed a potential mechanism for how exercise and cognitive training may be changing the brain to support cognition, suggesting that the two work together through complementary pathways of the brain to improve high-interference memory.