Study links two types of exercise to “substantial” brain benefits

Many people are taking supplements that claim to enhance the plasticity of the brain, but a new Australian study has found that taking two different forms of exercise can do better. In addition to identifying two beneficial forms of exercise, the study found that another activity may block the brain’s benefits by increasing the stress hormone cortisol.

Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change. Although the plasticity of the brain was once thought to disappear in adulthood, years of modern research have challenged this belief. Many supplements are said to improve brain plasticity, although in many cases there is insufficient evidence. However, exercise may be a safe and effective alternative that can help the brain adjust its neural connections.

Researchers at the University of South Australia studied 128 people and found that only 25 minutes of moderate-intensity continuous aerobic exercise or 20 minutes of intermittent training enhanced neuroplasticity. The findings are based on existing research showing that aerobic exercise has a positive effect on cognition. However, prolonged,rather than short-term, high-intensity activities may eliminate the positive effects seen during interval training.

With the benefits observed, the study participants were tasked with keeping their heart rate between 50 and 90 percent of their intensity levels. Examples of such exercises include moderate-intensity cycling or high-intensity running, which erupts suddenly during short intervals, which helps to maintain cortisol levels.

Researcher Dr Ashleigh Smith said: “We have known that regular aerobic exercise is good for the brain and improves memory, attention and learning. However, we need to understand why this is so beneficial and what the best exercise, intensity, and duration are. “