It is well known that moderate sport helps to keep the body in shape. Less known is the fact that it can also keep the mind in shape, improving skills such as memory, attention and concentration. And this occurs in the long term and at all ages, albeit with different effects between men and women. This is demonstrated by an in-depth study conducted by a joint group of researchers from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Tsukuba in Japan, published in an important journal of the “Nature” group.
As is often done in science to understand the real extent of a phenomenon that has been addressed in the past by different researches and with different approaches, Swiss and Japanese researchers have conducted a meta-analysis, that is, they have collected all the available studies on the subject and have analyzed, with appropriate statistical tools, all the data they contain overall. The goal was to understand, among the myriad of types of exercises and related intensities, which could be the best for keeping the brain in shape.
Strength or endurance?
The analysis of 80 different researches revealed that both endurance and strength exercises and finally a mix of the two types seem to improve cognitive performance. However, the most evident results are obtained with sports that require complex movement patterns and interaction with other people.
A further result of the study is that the effect does not necessarily depend on the amount of exercise practiced: in other words, undergoing longer training sessions determines a higher level of mental fitness, but only in the long term.
Exercises for all ages
An extremely encouraging fact that emerged from the study is that it is never too late to start physical activity and obtain the benefits. Cognitive performance, just like physical performance, changes continuously over time: it goes without saying that the improvements are very evident during childhood, a phase in which cognitive development is very rapid, while it is definitely less so in adulthood and in third Age. But the analysis showed that the same sporting activity can be beneficial in school-age children as well as in young people and adults. As if to say that children and their grandparents could be involved together in a group sport activity useful for the cognitive health of both.
Men and women
The brain of men reacts to physical exercise differently than that of women: this too is an indication that emerged from the study. The differences are particularly evident in response to different intensity of movement but not for the type of sport practiced. In practice, it seems that intense training is particularly useful for the brains of adult boys and men, and gradually increasing the intensity a corresponding improvement is obtained, at least over a long period of time. In the case of women, on the other hand, the benefits tend to diminish if the intensity of the exercise is increased too quickly.