Why does walking benefit brain function

Exercise benefits brain function and structure, according to University of Arizona researchers

Exercise has obvious beneficial effects on the body, and recent studies show that it can benefit the mind as well. But research and understanding explain the lack of effects of exercise on the brain. So, University of Arizona researchers conducted a study to explain how and why exercise is beneficial for cognitive health.

UA Associate Professor of Anthropology David Raichlen And UA Professor of Psychology Gene Alexander Developed an "adaptive capacity model" coupling exercise of beneficial effects on the brain with human evolution history as a hunter-gatherer.

The researchers claim that physical activity and the brain were first so connected 2 million years ago, when humans evolved from a sedentary ape-like lifestyle to become forage. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is much more physically and mentally demanding than stagnant ape existence.

"We think our physiology evolved to respond to these increases in physical activity, and these physiological adjustments go from your bones and muscles, apparently all the way to your brain," Raichlen said in a statement. "Foraging is an incredibly complex cognitive behavior. You walk on a landscape, you use memory not only to know where you are going, but also to navigate your way back, you look at your surroundings. You are multitasking all the time, because you make decisions while caring about the environment while also monitoring your motor systems over complex terrain. Putting it all together creates a very complex multitasking effort. "

Thinking about the relationship between movement and the brain from an evolutionary perspective helps explain how the mind responds and benefits from physical activity. The areas of the brain used for memory, problem solving, and planning are all required for foraging. They are the same areas that benefit from exercise.

"Exercise seems to use the brain through several mechanisms," said TUN Raichlen. "These include increasing blood flow and triggering the production of useful proteins that can lead to the creation and protection of new neurons in certain parts of the brain."

Positive effects on aging

Studies have shown that exercise can also have a positive impact on brain function in older adults. Through this understanding, researchers can develop ways of physical activity to support those with declining cognitive health and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

As people age, they tend to become less active. When the brain and the body are not through the same physical and mental stresses as they once were, they begin to wear themselves out.

"Our evolutionary history suggests that we are fundamentally cognitively engaged endurance athletes and that if we don't stay active we will have this loss of capacity in response," Alexander said in a statement. "So there can really be a mismatch between our relatively sedentary lifestyles today and how we've evolved."

In the future, researchers will analyze how different types and intensities of exercise will affect the brain.

"If we can help ourselves understand how and why exercise benefits the brain, we can begin developing novel interventions that can improve the effects of aerobic exercise on the brain," said Raichlen TUN.

"We will continue to study the longevity of exercise on the brain. Through this work, we hope to clarify mechanisms that link brain benefits to physical activity and generate new exercise programs that target brain health more carefully, especially in older adults. "