Aerobic exercise is good for the brain
mood, memory, education; five easy wins for behaviour change
Some key takeaways, and five easy wins.
In an early review paper, Colcombe and Kramer (2003) conducted a meta-analysis of 18 interventional studies, conducted over a 25-year period. Their general conclusion was that fitness training in the elderly increased performance by approximately .5 of a standard deviation across all tasks tested. Maximal effects were found for tasks related to executive functions, (i.e., aspects of higher cognition principally associated with the functions of prefrontal cortex).
The next greatest set of effects were found for cognitive functions associated with the transition from effortful learning to automatic processing (i.e. tasks such as driving, that demand concentration and attention during their learning and execution, but which through practice become more automatic).
The next greatest effect was on visuo-spatial factors (i.e., factors associated with visualising and interacting with the three-dimensional world).
Finally, effects were found on low-level reaction time tasks: generalised increases in the speed of response to stimuli. The authors concluded that neurocognitive benefits of exercise are apparent right across the life span, but the greatest measurable effects of fitness training are more evident in older participants.
Aerobic effects on brain function
Hippocampal volume generally diminishes with age, leading to memory impairment and heightened risk of dementia. Some studies have hinted at a link between increased fitness levels and larger hippocampal volumes in adults, so understanding the specific influence of aerobic exercise training on hippocampal volume in older adults is very important.
Takeaway: regular aerobic exercise increases the volume of key brain areas concerned with memory.