Friday 6 September 2019 5:50 AM UTC
Sept. 06: Many studies have shown the benefits of exercise on executive function – but little is known about what types is best in comparison to each other.
The team, led by Shinji Takahashi at Tohoku Gakuin University, Japan, recruited 20 adults who played badminton for ten minutes.
Many scientific studies encourage people to exercise by touting the benefits it could have on their brains – but what exactly does it do?
In a round-up of recent research, Harvard Health Letter’s executive editor, Heidi Godman, explained it can boost the size of certain parts of the brain, improve sleep and stimulate healthier brain cells.
Research by the University of British Colombia showed people who did regular aerobic exercise – such as running, swimming or cycling – have larger and more active hippocampus regions of the brain, which are associated with learning and emotions.
Other research adds that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex tend to be larger in people who exercise more often – these regions control thinking and memory.
Exercise can also reduce inflammation (swelling), which can damage cells if sustained, throughout the body, including in the brain.
It can also stimulate the production of growth factors, which are chemicals affecting the health of brain cells and the growth of new blood vessels to provide more oxygen to the organ.
Exercise also helps people to sleep better and have reduced stress and anxiety, all of which have been shown to have positive effects on brain power and mental health.
They also ran on a treadmill, considered a simple exercise, and sat down, a control intervention, for ten minutes per task.
The participants completed the Stroop test before and after each intervention. It involved matching words to colours.
In the main test, test scores increased from 53.6 to 57.1 after playing badminton, on average. They went from 55 to 57.2 after running.
Writing in the journal PLOS One, the authors of the study said: ‘In badminton, players are required to not only grasp the speed and orbit of the shuttle, spatial position of the opponent, but also to choose appropriate shots and perform them.
‘Such cognitive demands could activate the regions of the brain concerned with executive functions.
‘We conclude that the large effect of the badminton intervention on executive function was due to the cognitive demands required to play the game.’
The researchers were specifically investigating a part of executive function called inhibitory function, which we have from early childhood.
It manifests itself in many ways, but is largely involved with controlling our impulses.
Poor inhibitory function, or ‘control’, may stop a child from focusing in class, causing interruption and boredom.
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