The intensity of aerobic exercise changes How exercise affects our brains

Alexander_P / shutterstock

Source: Alexander_P / Shutterstock

A new study from Dartmouth College sheds light on how easily moderate aerobic exercise affects the human brain differently than high-intensity exercise over an entire calendar year. This research, the first of its kind, indicates that doing cardio exercises regularly (such as walking, jogging, and swimming) at an easy or difficult pace affects how the brain functions in different ways. these results (Manning et al., 2022Published August 15 in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

In this longitudinal study, first author Jeremy Manning and colleagues used the Fitbits app to collect real-world exercise intensity data from 113 participants for an entire year. The study was designed to test the researchers’ hypothesis that “different intensity of physical activity has different quantifiable effects on cognitive performance and mental health.”

ROAD TESTED METHODS The intensity of a workout affects the mind of a racer

Before diving into these evidence-based research findings, I’ll share some anecdotal notes and road-tested methods in which I purposely mix cardio intensity to improve how my brain functions depending on the cognitive demands of each day.

Super Durable Athlete Who broke a Guinness World Records record by running six consecutive marathons on a treadmill in 2004, I’ve spent a lot of time deconstructing how different exercise intensity affects my thought processes and mental health. Over the years, I’ve discovered how to customize my daily workouts to help me think better and feel less compressed or Dejected – Depressed Depending on the dose response to easy, moderate, or vigorous aerobic exercise.

My curiosity about how exercise affects the mind began decades ago. In the 1970s, my nerves The father conducted experiments on sheep that involved putting them on a treadmill and observing how physical activity affected their brains. to conduct in vivo Researching how exercise affects the mammalian brain, my father took six months off from his job as a neurosurgeon at Harvard Medical School to study live sheep housed at the Florey Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

My father’s exercise-related brain research came at a time when the jogging craze was sweeping the nation, and the general public was beginning to associate the so-called “high runnerWith the release of endorphins, which were discovered and named in the mid-1970s (Bert and Solomon, 1973).

In Boston, where my family was living at the time, the runners were fanatical. The amount of rain, sleet, or snow won’t stop them from getting their daily “workout fix.” Based on Thorndike’s Law of Effect (“All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain”), my father was keen to investigate the neuroscience behind runners who find “pleasure” in vigorous exercise, which is commonly perceived as “painful.”

Unfortunately, my father’s animal research on how exercise affects the electrochemical environment of the mammalian brain ultimately failed to produce any meaningful results. However, his unanswered research questions inspired me to stay on the lookout for empirical evidence advancing our understanding of how aerobic exercise can change how the mind works and to draw insights from my lived experience.

Ferencz Teglas / Shutterstock

Source: Ferencz Teglas / Shutterstock

When I started running regularly as an A Adolescence In the Summer 1983I made myself a human lab mouse. Before and after each round, I would make mental notes about how vigorous exercise affected the way my brain worked and shared these anecdotal notes with my parents. At that time he was writing the manuscript of his book, brain tissuepublished in 1986.

Combined with a “runner’s high” and feeling happier after an intense workout, it became apparent when I started college in the fall of 1984 that running nearly every day during my senior year of high school made me a better thinker.

Throughout most of high school, I avoided vigorous exercise, and my brain seemed to have a hard time retaining knowledge. I suffered academically. Before the summer of 1983, when running became part of my daily routine, I used to straight c – student And I got awesome SAT scores.

However, after a year of running at a moderate to vigorous pace most days of the week, my mind turned; Mine memory It was stronger, and learning felt easier. Based on live experience, it was clear that regular aerobic exercise at a relatively high intensity for a year enhanced my mental strength and cognitive abilities. (We see “The neuroscience of hyperfluidic thinking. “)

3 ways to mix aerobic density that could change the way your brain works

  1. Light intensity (easy “yellow” area): Promotes Absent-mindedness Daydreaming this stress-relieving pace is relaxing and reducing worry.
  2. moderate intensity (“orange” flow channel)Facilitates problem-solving and connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated ideas; This is the place for flow state experiments and get “Eureka, you found it!“Moments during Cardio workout.
  3. High intensity (strong “red” area)Cognitive benefits such as verbal fluency and faster recall are tested for one to three hours after, after HIIT “red zone” exercise completed. High intensity workouts are great for 60-90 minutes Before A job interview or an exam.

Until recently, there hasn’t been much evidence-based research to support my anecdotal observations (above) that performing cardio at different color-coded aerobic intensities—easy (yellow), moderate (orange), hard (red)—changes how The mind works in predictable ways that are dose-responsive.

To my knowledge, the most recent (2022) study from Dartmouth College is the first of its kind to shed light on how specific exercise intensity is described to help students with academic challenges or mental health issues based on dose response to light, medium, or high intensity cardio sessions.

Be patient: It takes time to exercise to improve the way our brains work

To date, most studies of exercise on the link between physical activity and cognitive function have not focused explicitly on the long-term effect of variable aerobic exercise intensity on knowledge over an entire year.

The authors explain: “Most preliminary studies treat physical activity as a binary variable that is present or absent for each participant.” “Most of the previous studies also tracked or manipulated exercise over relatively short intervals (usually in the order of days or weeks).” The researchers note that the “true relationship” between physical activity, cognitive performance and mental health tends to “emerge over much longer timescales than previously identified.”

Overall, during this one-year study, Manning et al. I’ve found that staying active (at any intensity) improves cognitive performance and benefits mental health. However, different exercise intensity appears to affect memory in different ways. For example, researchers have found that people who exercise a lot at low to moderate intensity tend to perform better on episodic memory tasks. In contrast, participants who did high intensity exercises scored higher on spatial memory tasks.

“We found that the associations between fitness-related activities and memory performance and mental health are complex. For example, participants who tended to engage in a certain intensity of physical activity also tended to perform better on some memory tasks but worse on others,” he writes. authors. “This suggests that engaging in one form or intensity of physical activity will not necessarily affect all aspects of cognitive or mental health equally (or in the same direction).”

In terms of mental health, people who did not seek regular high-intensity exercise tended to be less stressed and have lower rates of anxiety. However, the researchers stress that these observations are interrelated. It is impossible to know if you are exercising at an easy to moderate pace it causes Study participants to be less stressed or if those who tended to be less stressed in their daily lives, regardless of their exercise habits, were more inclined to exercise at a modest pace.

“When it comes to physical activity, memory and mental health, there is a really complex dynamic that cannot be summed up in single sentences like ‘walking improves your memory’ or ‘stress hurts your memory,'” Manning said in September. new version. “Instead, it appears that certain forms of physical activity and specific aspects of mental health affect each aspect of memory differently.”

Future research by this Dartmouth team will explore best practices for adjusting the intensity of exercise interventions to meet an individual’s unique needs. As Manning explains, regimens specific to exercise intensity can be designed to help students prepare for exams, enhance different types of cognitive performance, reduce anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, and improve overall mental health.

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