Exercise Improves Cognitive Performance In Young People

Dr. Liana Machado PhD Department of Psychology Brain Health Research Centre University of Otago  Dunedin New ZealandMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Liana Machado PhD

Department of Psychology Brain Health Research Centre
University of Otago  Dunedin New Zealand

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: A large body of data indicates links between chronic physical activity levels and cognitive performance in healthy populations. Although the bulk of evidence comes from studies in older adults, a number of studies have established links in children and in young adults. However, the mechanisms supporting the exercise-cognition links have remained unclear. Finding from an earlier study of ours, published in the journal Neuropsychology, pointed toward cerebrovascular factors as potentially important. In our new study in Psychophysiology, we found evidence suggesting that higher oxygen availability in the brain is one of the cerebrovascular factors that helps support better cognitive performance in people who exercise more regularly, thus providing important insight toward understanding why cognitive performance improves with regular exercise.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Our findings challenge old ideas that people do not need to bother exercising if they are not overweight, or that young people do not have to worry about exercising since they are in their prime developmentally. In direct opposition to this old way of thinking, our findings suggest that even the brains of healthy young adults can benefit from regular engagement in exercise, on both a cerebrovascular and a cognitive level. So why not take the stairs instead of the elevator and consider walking or biking to your next destination instead of driving.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research should investigate further the potential of physical activity to provide a simple means to optimize cerebrovascular and cognitive functioning. Since our study only included young women, it will be important to test whether young men also show evidence of benefitting from regular exercise with respect to their brain function (vascular and cognitive). Also, it will be important to determine the optimal duration and intensity of exercise. The findings from our new study in Psychophysiology suggest that moderate physical activity (including brisk walking) may suffice to gain benefits with respect to brain function, but it will be important to test whether more vigorous exercise affords greater benefits..


Cameron, T. A., Lucas, S. J. E. and Machado, L. (2014), Near-infrared spectroscopy reveals link between chronic physical activity and anterior frontal oxygenated hemoglobin in healthy young women. Psychophysiology. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12394

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