Regular Aerobic Exercise is Good for Body and Brain
Regular exercise has many benefits for the body, including improving cardiovascular fitness and helping to manage body weight. Because it also improves blood flow to the brain, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have also studied the beneficial effects that aerobic exercise has on cognition.
While the effect has been studied and proven beneficial in rats, the UPMC study is the first to use an animal model closer to that of humans – the monkey.
Dr. Judy L. Cameron PhD, psychiatry professor at the Pitt School of Medicine and a senior scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health and Science University, trained adult female cynomolgus monkeys to run on a human-sized treadmill at 80% of their individual maximum aerobic capacity for one hour a day, five days per week. Those in the control group sat sedentary on an immobile treadmill for the same amount of time.
During the fifth week of the study, standardized cognitive tests were given as a baseline, using the Wisconsin General Testing Apparatus (WGTA), and then performed five days a week until week 24. These consisted of a learning task of lifting a cover on a tray to reveal a food reward after a delay where a screen was used to block the monkey’s view (testing memory).
“Monkeys that exercised learned to remove the well covers twice as quickly as control animals,” Dr. Cameron said. “Also, they were more engaged in the tasks and made more attempts to get the rewards.”
Tissue samples from the motor cortex of the brain found that the monkeys that exercised had a greater blood volume than those who were sedentary. However, temporary exercising only had temporary benefits. Some of the monkeys in the original exercising group were given a sedentary period of three months and then were retested. The increased vascular volume did not remain apparent after this time.
“These findings indicate that aerobic exercise at the recommended levels can have meaningful, beneficial effects on the brain,” Dr. Cameron said. “It supports the notion that working out is good for people in many, many ways.” --But you have to keep at it.
Effects of aerobic exercise training on cognitive function and cortical vascularity in monkeys
Neuroscience, Available online 6 March 2010