Getting off that couch and doing some exercise could make you smarter as well as healthier, researchers claim. Canadian researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute and the Montreal Geriatric University Institute put a group of six inactive, middle-aged overweight subjects through a program of high-intensity interval training just twice a week, for four months.
At the end of the training period not only had the participants lost weight and fat and increased their exercise capacity, but their cognitive functions improved in direct proportion with fat loss and exercise capacity, too. It seems the increase in blood flow to the brain that accompanies exercise can directly boost brain function.
"Our participants underwent a battery of cognitive, biological and physiological tests before the program began in order to determine their cognitive functions, body composition, cardiovascular risk, brain oxygenation during exercise and maximal aerobic capacity," explains MHI's Amil Nigam, M.D. Cognitive tests included things like remembering pairs of numbers and symbols. "After the program was finished, we discovered that their waist circumference and particularly their trunk fat mass had decreased. We also found that their VO2 max insulin sensitivity had increased significantly, in tandem with their score on the cognitive tests and the oxygenation signals in the brain during exercise."
Blood flow to the brain increases during exercise, and people who do exercise say they feel sharper, notes Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the MHI. "Now we've found a way to measure that." And although a decline in cognitive function is a normal part of aging, "it's reassuring to know that you can at least partially prevent that decline by exercising and losing weight."
The Montreal team's studies are being presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2012.