Heard the expression “Ask a teen – they know everything?”
A new Dunedin study suggests they could be even smarter with regular exercise.
The research has revealed regular physical activity improves brain function in young adults, University of Otago psychology department senior lecturer Dr Liana Machado said.
“A body of research already exists showing aerobic exercise improves brain function in older adults, but there is a limited amount of literature on how it affects young adults,” she said.
She said she had noticed over the years that university students appeared progressively less fit.
“I wondered whether we might find significant relationships between exercise levels, oxygen availability in the brain, and cognition in the young adults, but no studies had considered this in healthy young adults.”
Machado set out to test “the oft-held belief” that the brains of young adults in their prime and considered at the height of cognitive ability, might not benefit as much as older people from regular sustained exercise.
That belief was now rapidly being overturned, she said.
Her research found compelling evidence for regular exercise, at least five days a week, as a way to sharpen cognitive ability in young adults.
It challenged the assumption that living a sedentary lifestyle led to problems only later in life, she said.
The study took 52 tertiary students, aged 18 to 30, through a series of cognitive tests on a computer while measuring oxygen availability in the frontal lobes of their brains.
Self-reported exercise frequency was also part of the study.
Machado said the “surprising” findings showed blood supply to the brain and cognitive functioning in the young adults appeared to benefit from regular exercise.
“The research also provides potential insight into understanding why people who regularly engage in aerobic exercise tend to function better on a cognitive level,” she said.
“The exercise could involve brisk walking or more vigorous activity, and could be made up of a few 10-minute bouts of exercise, rather than one single block of
The researchers also found body mass index was not a key factor in how well the brain functioned, indicating that regular engagement in physical activity might be more important than body weight.
The findings came at a time of increased scientific focus on links between exercise and cognitive health in older adults, Machado said.
A recent paper in the United States indicated exercise was an important factor in combating brain deterioration among aging adults.