Varying opinions still exist on the benefits of exercise and activity, said authors Arthur F. Kramer, PhD, Kirk I. Erickson, PhD and Stanley J. Colcombe of the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, “but our review of the last 40 years of research does offer evidence that physical exercise can have a positive influence on cognitive and brain functions in human subjects.” Different methodologies were examined to comprehensively study what effects exercise can have.

Based on a review of the epidemiological literature, the authors found a significant relationship between physical activity and later cognitive function and decreased occurrence of dementia. And the benefits may last several decades. In a few of the studies that examined men and women over 65 years old, the findings showed that those who exercised for at least 15-30 minutes at a time three times a week were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, even if they were genetically predisposed to the disease.

By examining the human intervention studies, a relationship was also found between fitness training and improved cognition, more efficient brain function and retained brain volume in older people, said Kramer. He cautions that different fitness training regimens and aspects of mental functions need further study to solidify a causal relationship. But, he added, there are some preliminary positive findings. In a four year study looking at the relationship between physical activity on cognition and brain function in 62-70 year olds, “those who continued to work and retirees who exercised showed sustained levels of cerebral blood flow and superior performance on general measures of cognition as compared to the group of inactive retirees,” said Kramer.; Source: American Psychological Association (APA)