Exercise supports mental fitness

A healthy body is home to a healthy mind: sporting activity can improve cognitive performance. However, there are many different types of sports and a wide range of exercises and trainings. Which type and how much exercise will keep your mind in top shape? This is the question that has been explored by researchers at the University of Basel and their colleagues at the University of Tsukuba in Japan through a large-scale analysis of the scientific literature. They have used this analysis to provide sports recommendations in a recently published article in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Coordinated sports are particularly effective

The Japanese research group evaluated 80 individual studies to identify a few key characteristics. Endurance training, strength training or a mix of these components seem to improve cognitive performance. However, coordinated and challenging sports that require complex movement patterns and interaction with fellow players are significantly more effective. 

Furthermore, the data suggests that higher total extent of activity does not necessarily lead to a higher level of effectiveness for mental fitness. Longer duration per exercise unit promises a greater improvement of cognitive performance however benefit only shows up over a longer period of time, meaning you must be consistent with the exercise.

All age groups benefit

The research shows that all age groups benefit from sporting activities with no variation between child group and senior group.  Furthermore, same sporting activities are just as effective in improving cognitive performance from primary school age to later age.  

Intense sports sessions for boys and men

The same volume of sports activity has a different effect on physical fitness for men and women.  The research noted that men benefit more from sporting activity.

Differences between the sexes are particularly evident in the intensity of movement, but not in the type of sport. A hard workout seems to be particularly worthwhile for boys and men. Paired with a gradual increase in intensity, this leads to a significantly greater improvement in cognitive performance over a longer period of time.

In contrast, the positive effect on women and girls disappears if the intensity is increased too quickly. The results of the research suggest that woman should choose low to medium intensity sporting activities if they want to increase their cognitive fitness.

Get moving, stay smart, and thanks for reading.

Journal Reference:Sebastian Ludyga, Markus Gerber, Uwe Pühse, Vera N. Looser, Keita Kamijo. Systematic review and meta-analysis investigating moderators of long-term effects of exercise on cognition in healthy individualsNature Human Behaviour, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-020-0851-8

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