Exercise has been encouraged in many settings whether at school, by a doctor or your family and friends. It has become part of elementary education and the benefits to regular exercise are continuously found and experienced by those who take part. One of the main reasons that is has been stressed in recent history revolves around the current issue of obesity in the United States, but recent studies have explored the long-term effects of exercise on brain function and mental health.
My personal experience with exercise emerged as a young girl as I played three sports throughout middle and high school. However, I really developed my love for running when I started to compete in cross country running during my sophomore year of high school. I had always been athletic and all of the sports I played involved running, but I had never consistently run daily and competed. Initially, I disliked the monotony of running 6+ miles a day and speed training, but halfway through the season I began to enjoy the time that allowed me to think and reflect and push my body to do things it had never done before. Although no longer competing in college, I have carried my love of running and kept it as a part of my daily routine. I find that exercising helps me relieve stress and focus on the work that I have. When I skip a day or two, I can feel the difference in my energy levels, ability to work and stay focused, and overall mood.
The short-term effects of what is often referred to as “runners high” can be explained by the hormone beta-endorphin which is secreted during exercise (Sapolsky, 123). However, recent findings have suggested that exercise can have long-term positive effects on brain function such as memory and attention along with the positive physical and mental health effects that have long been established in regular exercisers.
A 2018 study conducted by Rietz et al that looked at the positive effects of high-intensity exercise on attention in men. New research has indicated that exercising one time can have positive effects on cognition and overall brain function, however, this study specifically focuses on the effects of exercise on attention in young adult men (Rietz et al., 2018). Participants in the study were tested three different times after either the twenty-minute control (resting) or exercise (cycling) activities (Rietz et al., 2018). The measures of attention were electrophysiological tests looking at different aspects of cognition (Rietz et al., 2018). Although the exercise did not affect each of the tests of cognition, it did have a positive effect on Go P3 amplitude which is an indication that it helped executive attention and increased attention towards an activity as you are responding to and taking in stimuli (Rietz et al., 2018). Although this focuses on one instance of physical activity, it is clear that it has a positive effect on brain function and can increase one’s ability to attend to what is immediately in front of them.
It is important to understand the immediate effects that exercise has on the brain, but also to know how regular exercise can help maintain brain ability in the long term. A 2018 study conducted by Padilla et al. focuses on whether chronic aerobic exercise can aid in improving and maintaining long-term memory retrieval. Participants who were qualified to be regular exercisers for a long period of time and control participants who did not regularly exercise, underwent a series of cognitive tests to determine which underwent retrieval induced forgetting and which didn’t (Padilla et al.,2018). Retrieval induced forgetting occurred in frequent exercisers which suggests that the brain is more able to adapt to the information that is being retrieved as opposed to other stimuli that are not relevant (Padilla et al.,2018). This suggests that chronic exercise has a positive effect on executive function and recognizing specific information that is important to the activity.
There is still much research remaining in order to determine the exact and numerous effects that regular exercise throughout a lifetime will have on the brain. In the meantime it is equally important to promote exercise as something that could have long lasting effects throughout one’s lifetime.
Reitz, D.E., Barker, A.R., Michelini, G., Rommel, A.S., Vainieri, I., Asherson, P. & Kuntsi, J, 2018. Beneficial effects of acute high-intensity exercise on electrophysiological indices of attention in young adult men. Behavioral Brain Research, 359, 474-484. http://dx.doi.org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2018.11.024
Padilla, C., Andres, P. & Bajo, T., 2018. Improving memory inhibition: A study of retrieval induced forgetting, executive control, and chronic aerobic exercise. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. http://dx.doi.org.colby.idm.oclc.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00318