Although the literature connecting aerobic activity and cognitive performance is well established, many of the mechanisms have yet to be determined.
In a new study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, researchers from the University of Tsukuba posit that neous eye blink rate (sEBR), which occurs in response to increased dopamine activity, accounts for the link between habitual exercise and improved brain function.
Aerobic activity, defined as low and high-intensity workouts that require free oxygen, appears to improve function in the hippocampus, and regions of the brain that better enable us to regulate our stress response.
Moreover, those who commit to regular aerobic exercise, reduce inflammation in their body and increase resistance to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress and inflammation are both predictors of chronic illness and early death.
The findings followed a study comprised of 35 healthy young adult males between the ages of 18 and 24.
Each underwent analysis meant to measure sEBR, a test of cognitive function, in addition to an aerobic fitness test. Neural activity was examined via a brain monitoring technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy.
“Higher aerobic fitness, a physiological marker of habitual physical activity, is likely to predict higher executive function based on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), according to current cross-sectional studies. The exact biological link between the brain and brawn remains unclear, but the brain dopaminergic system, which acts as a driving force for physical activity and exercise, can be hypothesized to connect the missing link above,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
“These results indicate that the sEBR mediates the association between aerobic fitness and executive function through prefrontal neural efficiency, which clearly supports the hypothesis that brain dopaminergic function works to connect, at least in part, the missing link between aerobic fitness and executive function.”
“The dopaminergic system is associated with both executive function and motivated behavior, including physical activity,” says first author of the study Ryuta Kuwamizu. “We used sEBR as a non-invasive measure of dopaminergic system function to test whether it could be the missing link between aerobic fitness and cognitive function,” the authors explained in a media release.
“As expected, we found significant correlations between aerobic fitness, cognitive function, and sEBR,” explains Professor Hideaki Soya, senior author. “When we examined these relationships further, we found that the connection between higher aerobic fitness and enhanced cognitive function was mediated in part by dopaminergic regulation.”
If you still have reservations about going to a public gym, be sure to check out Ladder’s detailed guide to the ultimate at-home workout.
“Although previous studies have indicated that aerobic fitness and cognitive function are correlated, this is the first to provide a neuromodulatory basis for this connection in humans. Our data indicate that dopamine has an essential role in linking aerobic fitness and cognition,” the authors conlcuded.