Physios are always telling you about the benefits of exercise! Did you know there are also mental benefits of exercise? So far there hasn’t really been any research into what kind of exercise is best for your brain though… Until now. A recent study has given us new insight into the brain’s response to exercise, and those ultrarunners and endurance athletes out there will be thrilled with the results.
Your brain responds best to long aerobic sessions
Yep, long distance cardio seems to work the most magic on your brain. According to the study, sustained aerobic exercise has more benefits for your brain than anaerobic exercise, like HIIT, quick spurts of mountain climbers or burpees or a strength-training session. The study found that aerobic exercise had positive effects on brain structure and function, including on a process called adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN), which essentially means nerve growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a role in memory and spatial navigation, so you want to take care of it! The same study concluded that anaerobic exercise, like HIIT and weightlifting, didn’t necessarily have the same AHN-boosting effects. Don’t worry though, it does have other benefits (we don’t give it to you for no reason!)
How reliable is this study?
As with most studies, we need to take the results and do more research and testing before taking it as gospel, since the initial study is done on rats not humans. For anyone who’s ever experienced the legendary "runner’s high," though, it makes sense that aerobic work would be good for the brain. After all, "The mammalian brain is the mammalian brain," Jordan Metzl (internationally acclaimed sports physician) says, which means you’re more like the rats than you might think.
Does this mean you should only be running? What should you be doing if you want to ace your upcoming uni exams or win the next game show?? We still recommend combining aerobic and anaerobic training to reap the benefits of both methods. And whatever exercise you choose, we recommend doing it with intensity and purpose. "Sustained’ means you have to do it for more than just a few minutes before your hippocampus becomes the envy of your coffee group.