Recently a massive study conducted in Germany and presented at the ECNP Congress in Copenhagen more resolutely established the correlation between habitual physical activity and improved brain function. Although the two have shared an association for some time, the new pioneering report is the first to illustrate the exact biomechanics at play.
White matter and physical prowess
A little over 1,200 MRI brain scans derived from the Human Connectome Project were comprised of data from participants with a median age of 30. Following analysis, volunteers were tasked with walking as fast as they possibly could for two minutes, with each respective distance achieved being measured upon completion. Once this was concluded, the participants were administered a series of cognitive tests, which accounted for relevant things like memory alertness judgment and reasoning.
Unlike the similar but limited studies that came before, the researchers were allowed to single out specific controls and eliminate any disrupting or misleading variables. The results of the cognitive tests evidenced increased aptitude in executive function, retention, focus, and attention. Dr. Jonathan Repple of the University Hospital Muenster, Germany, who served as the study lead expert, commented to Eureka, “It surprised us to see that even in a young population cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop. We knew how this might be important in an elderly population which does not necessarily have good health, but to see this happening in 30-year-olds is surprising. This leads us to believe that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.”
Because the study was cross-sectional, the specifics regarding the kind of physical activities led to the best results, and how long an average otherwise healthy person should commit to them is yet to be determined. As it stands, Dr. Repple is so spirited by the results, he had his team plan on extending the circumstances of the study to subjects that suffer from depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Professor Peter Falkai of the University Clinic in Munich, Germany, concurrently expressed both enthusiasm and sobriety about Dr. Repple’s ambitions, correctly noting the many miles that stand between the presentation in Copenhagen and conclusive replication to mental illness.
“This is an important cross-sectional study demonstrating a robust correlation between physical health and cognitive functioning in a large cohort of healthy young adults,” Falkai told Eureka. “This correlation was backed by changes in the white matter status of the brain supporting the notion that better macro-connectivity is related to better brain functioning. It stresses the importance of physical activity at all stages of life and as preliminary recent evidence suggests one can start improving physical health even in later life even if one has never trained before.”