Promoting and maintaining cognitive function can be helped by exercising regularly. While other studies have focused on the impact on executive function from aerobic exercise routines of moderate- to high-intensity lasting between 6 months to 1 year, it’s challenging to motivate people to participate in and stick to rigorous exercise programs.
Building on previous research, it’s been found that even short mild exercise sessions, which include yoga and walking, stimulate the brain and deliver short-term cognitive performance improvements.
However, the impact that mild aerobic exercise over a longer term has on brain function, in addition to the associated underlying mechanisms, has remained unexplored.
A group of 125 healthy individuals between the ages of 55 and 78 were randomly split into 2 groups: an exercise group cycled at low intensity 3 times each week for 3 months, while the control group carried on their usual daily routine.
The researchers assessed the executive function of the participants making use of a Stroop test and evaluated prefrontal cortex activity throughout the task making use of functional near-infrared spectroscopy prior to as well as after the 3 months.
The results showed significant executive function improvement in the exercise group in comparison to the control group. When the data were analyzed by age, the mild exercise benefits were especially pronounced in the group of older individuals between the ages of 68 and 78.
An efficient activation increase of the prefrontal cortex played a part in the underlying brain mechanism supporting this improvement. This means a high executive function corresponding to relatively low brain activation.
These results indicate that mild exercise for just 3 months can strengthen the functional networks of the brain, which enabled the prefrontal cortex to be more successfully utilized throughout the Stroop test.
These results highlight the positive effects that stress-free mild exercise over 3 months has in prefrontal cortex strengthening and cognitive function improvement.
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