Friday, January 18, 2008

Exercise effects on brain and cognition

Hillman et al., provide an interesting review article (PDF here) that examines the positive effects of aerobic physical activity on cognition and brain function, at the molecular, cellular, systems and behavioral levels.

The results of a meta-analysis of the effects of fitness training on cognition showed that the benefits of fitness training on four different cognitive tasks were significant. As illustrated in the figure, fitness training has both broad and specific effects. The effects are broad in the sense that individuals in aerobic fitness training groups (represented by the red bars) showed larger fitness training effects across the different categories of cognitive processes illustrated on the x-axis. They are specific in the sense that fitness training effects were larger for some cognitive processes, in particular executive control processes, than for other cognitive processes.

Physical activity has been found to enhance cognition, with a selectively larger effect on executive control functions compared with other cognitive processes. Accordingly, brain structures that mediate executive functions would be expected to show disproportionate changes as a result of participation in physical activity. One such structure is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is part of the brain's limbic system and has connections with multiple brain structures that process sensory, motor, emotional and cognitive information. Two convergent lines of research indicate that physical activity exerts a substantial influence on the ACC and the concomitant executive processes that it mediates.

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