With a summer of sport ahead us, the topic of exercise seems rather pertinent.
The benefits of exercise to the body are well known. It keeps the heart healthy, strengthens our immune system, reduces blood pressure and reduces stress through the release of endorphins which make us feel good. However, the benefits of exercise to our mental well-being are less known and in particular, its effect on our brain.
Research suggests exercise can help reduce anxiety in women and alleviate depression in both sexes. Indeed, a recent study revealed that a 30 minute brisk walk (or equivalent) significantly improves our mood after 2, 4, 8, and 12 hours.
In the last few years, researchers at Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences have focused on the relationship between exercise and the brain and discovered a gene that regulates the beneficial effect of exercise on our brain - according to age, and memory in particular. These findings could be significant in using exercise as treatment for mental illness.
Indeed, a study at the University of Sydney has found evidence to that exercise can reduce the risk of dementia.
The findings of the research conducted at Dartmouth, published in the journal Neuroscience, suggest exercise can reduce characteristic behaviours in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, much of this research was based on work with animals. When applied to humans it seems genes determine whether exercise has any beneficial effect or not.
Nevertheless, these findings could still prove useful in predicting which ADHD children may respond to exercise as treatment. They also emphasise the importance of exercise in early life, while the brain is still growing and changing, as this results in more permanent wiring of the brain and therefore supports learning and memory.
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