How endurance physical activity affects our memory

The positive effect of exercise on physical health and performance is a big topic, but what about mental health and mental performance? Many studies confirm that physical activity has a positive influence on our intellect. It has been proven in children and seniors, but what about the people of working age? Can physical activity help us to manage intellectual work better?

2 Jul 2021 Vojtěch Grün

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What is it all about?
Various studies on memory and physical activity work with the terms "neurogenesis and hippocampus". The hippocampus is a brain region that processes memories, among others, and controls the storage of information in our memory. The prefrontal cortex and amygdala areas also play a large part in this process. Neurogenesis is a term describing the formation of new neurons (nerve cells). The most intense is during childhood and gradually decreases with age. In the elderly, this process is limited, does not exist, or conversely - neurons disappear. This is closely related to neurodegenerative diseases (dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, etc.). We can stop or at least slow down this natural negative process via two effective methods - physical activity and mental training (reading, learning, problem-solving, etc.).

Research objectives
The benefit of physical activity on cognitive function is relatively well described in children and the elderly. On the contrary, I focus on healthy people of working age (approximately 25-40 years). The research aim is to verify whether a physical activity will increase the efficiency of our - nowadays mostly intellectual - work.

Research method
The research is divided in two phases. In both phases we measure 4 different indicators:

  1. Maximum exercise load test on a bicycle ergometer - we monitor physiologically maximum parameters such as oxygen consumption, heart rate, minute ventilation, etc.
  2. Standardized psychological test for short-term memory performed by a psychologist.
  3. Blood analysis - we monitor brain-erived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - a protein directly involved in neurogenesis
  4. Magnetic resonance imaging - we monitor hippocampal volumes and functional connections (how well they work together) with the above-mentioned prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

In the first phase of the research, we use these four different measurements to compare endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, triathletes,…) with non-endurance athletes (strength sports, sprinters,…) and absolute non-athletes.

In the second phase of the research, non-endurance athletes and non-athletes will start cycling 3 times a week for 45 minutes. After 6 weeks of added physical activity, we will perform the same measurements as in the first phase and compare the results with the previous state.

Results and conclusion
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the measurements. But now we continue, and we will share the results with you soon. However, other research also confirms the positive effect of physical activity on our health, so don't wait for anything and start moving right now!

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