How does sport relate to our brain health?

The first scientific evidence of mental health and sport was in animals, which showed that aerobic exercise could stimulate some cellular and molecular components of the brain.

(Neeper, Pinilla, Choi y Cotman, 1996).

What happens at the cognitive level with older people who are physically active?

In 1999 a group of scientists from the University of Illinois observed that a group of volunteers, who for 60 years led a life with almost no physical activity, underwent a rapid and sustained walk of only 45 minutes three times a week. What they accomplished, this group of older adults managed to notably improve their mental abilities, which decline with age.

And what about the children?

We cannot forget the children. Exercise also benefits them at a cognitive level. This is reflected in a group of volunteers, who underwent a program that consisted of running moderately for only 30 minutes, three times a week, for three months. The results showed that there is a better performance in the tests that were applied after the physical training program. They also improved attention, inhibitory control and working memory.

What is the scientific reason for this?

Several studies in mice showed that physical activity increased the secretion of brain neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotrophin related to nerve growth factor, located mainly in the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. BDNF, improves the survival of neurons both in vivo and in vitro, in addition, it can protect the brain against ischemia (stroke) and promotes synaptic transmission (chemical or electrical transmission between two cells at the level of the nervous system).

On the other hand, in humans it is evident that the performance of physical exercise helps to preserve in better conditions the cognitive and sensory function of the brain. This is because physical activity causes the muscle to secrete IGF-1 (a hormone similar in molecular structure to insulin, which plays an important role in child and adult growth, having anabolic effects, that is, it favors tissue growth), which enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain and stimulates the production of cerebral neurotrophic factor.

Brain neurotrophic factor is a family of proteins that are released into the bloodstream and are able to bind to receptors on certain cells to stimulate their survival, growth, or differentiation. One of their functions is to prevent target neurons from initiating apoptosis (cell death), thus allowing the neurons to survive. This plays a very important role at a neuro-preventive level in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

What happens to our memory?

A study conducted by Dr. Kubota of Handa University in Japan, subjected seven healthy young people to a training program that consisted of running for 30 minutes, three times a week for three months. The purpose of this study was to compare the ability to memorize objects and establish intellectual capacity before and after the training plan.

At the end of the three months, test scores increased significantly for all participants, as well as the speed of information processing.

At the brain level, an overwhelming improvement was noted in the function of the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for various tasks such as planning, problem solving, memory, etc.

They also found that oxygen consumption increased in parallel with test scores, confirming that maintaining a constant flow of blood and oxygen preserves cognitive functions. Finally, it was observed that scores began to decline if participants dropped out of training.

On a psychological level, what impact does exercise have?

  1. Assistance to disorders such as anxiety and depression. Increased aerobic exercise or strength training has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
  2. Allows for stress tolerance
  3. Improvement of self-concept and self-esteem. Regarding self-esteem, García, Marín and Bohórquez (2012) investigated in a population of older adults, showing different levels of self-esteem among older adults who do physical activity and those who do not, being significantly higher in the former; demonstrating a positive relationship between self-esteem and physical activity performance.
  4. It reduces the perceived risk of illness, generating tranquilizing and antidepressant effects, improving reflexes and coordination.
  5. Increased sense of well-being.
  6. Prevention of insomnia, regulation of sleep cycles.
  7. Improvements in the socialization processes, since it instills values such as respect, team participation, friendship, discipline, patience, among others.

Written by Fitnessandsport team

Bibliographic Sources

  1. THE IMPACT OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND SPORT ON HEALTH, COGNITION, SOCIALIZATION, AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: A THEORETICAL REVIEW William Ramirez* / Stefano Vinaccia** / Gustavo Ramon Suarez

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(Penedo and Dahn, 2005; Rodríguez, Molina, Jiménez and Pinzón, 2011).

  1. Influence of sport and physical activity on the state of physical and mental health: a bibliographic review. Sergio Humberto Barbosa Granados1 Angela María Urrea Cuéllar

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