Maybe it’s time to retire the stereotype of the dumb jock? New research has found sports and exercise boost the mind as well as the body.
The small but intriguing study, conducted by Montreal researchers, found high-intensity interval training makes middle-aged people not only healthier but smarter.
In findings at a meeting of the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto this week, the scientists said just four months of exercise (four days a week) led to significant improvements in the cognitive functions — thinking, decision-making, and memory skills — of six overweight people who were flagged as having increased cardiovascular risks.SPECIAL: These 5 Things Flush 40 lbs. of Fat Out of Your Body — Read More.
"We worked with six adults who all followed a four-month program of twice weekly interval training on stationary bicycles and twice weekly resistance training. Cognitive function … and brain oxygenation during exercise testing revealed that the participants' cognitive functions had greatly improved thanks to the exercise," said lead researcher Dr. Anil Nigam of the Montreal Heart Institute and the University of Montreal.
Nigam said the results suggest many people could benefit by following a similar high-intensity interval training program, which involves alternating between short periods of low- and high-intensity aerobic exercise — for example, a series of 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds of walking or jogging.
"Our participants underwent a battery of cognitive, biological and physiological tests before the program began in order to determine their cognitive functions, body composition, cardiovascular risk, brain oxygenation during exercise and maximal aerobic capacity," Nigam explained.
The cognitive tests included tasks such as remembering numbers and symbols. The researchers also used brain monitoring technology that allowed them to measure minute changes in the volume and oxygenation of blood in the study participants’ brains as they exercised. They found blood flow to the brain increased during exercise, suggesting the more fit you are, the more that blood flow increases.
"If you talk to people who exercise, they say they feel sharper,” said Dr. Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute. “Now we've found a way to measure that." SPECIAL: These 5 Things Flush 40 lbs. of Fat Out of Your Body — Read More.