5 Reasons why Sport is Good for the Brain

For those who participate in sports, there are a number of benefits for our brain, and these benefits are especially valuable for people who analyse big data arrays and students, who may also benefit from using an online paper editor to improve their grades. Science suggests that these benefits can be quite serious, but are they?

Below we will outline 5 benefits we can obtain from participating in sports, all backed by science.

1. Your Memory Will Improve

Scientists at the University of California conducted a study that suggests that a regular bike ride can improve memory. The experiment involved 38 people with normal body weight and who had no contraindications to short active workouts. All of them, under the control of doctors, pedalled non-stop on a bicycle ergometer for 15 minutes, gradually increasing the speed, after which they underwent a brain scan.

It turned out that after this cycling the level of glutamic and gamma-aminobutyric acids in the brain increases. These acids are important for redox processes and directly affect a person’s ability to memorise information. Moreover, the effect persisted for half an hour after the end of the workout.

And the doctors were also intrigued by the fact that the participants who had been actively training all the previous week had higher levels of these acids than those who had the opportunity to take a break from training. This allowed scientists to conclude that regular training can improve memory in the long run, and sports affect the brain directly.

2. You Will Develop Divergent Thinking

To begin with, we must clarify that divergent thinking involves finding the maximum number of ways to solve a problem, and convergent thinking involves finding the only correct solution. Scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Lorenzo Colzato and Justine Pannecock set up an experiment to find out the effect of physical activity on divergent thinking.

96 people were invited to participate in the experiment, half of whom led an active lifestyle and played sports, and the other half were sedentary. Both were divided into two groups and offered to take tests for divergent and convergent thinking: one group – during physical activity, the other – immediately after training.

A bike was used as an auxiliary tool due to its ease of use. As a result, the experiment looked like this:

  • Group 1: Athletes who took tests while “riding” on a bike.
  • Group 2: Athletes who took tests after a “trip” on a bike.
  • Group 3: Sedentary participants who took tests on a bike.
  • Group 4: Sedentary participants who took tests after the bike.

The best results were shown by athletes, and the divergent thinking test was better passed by those who took it during a “trip” on a bike, and the convergent thinking test was better handled by the group that was tested at the end of physical activity.

Groups of participants leading a sedentary lifestyle coped with both tests worse regardless of the sequence or parallelism of physical activity and testing.

The researchers conclude that for people who regularly exercise, short-term physical activity can become a real incentive to find multiple solutions to the problem.

3. You Will Be Able To Reverse Cognitive Disorders That Have Already Begun

Cognitive abilities include a wide range of functions, such as thinking, spatial orientation, learning, speech, the ability to understand, memorise and formulate information, perform calculations, etc. How to improve all these skills at once? It turned out that this is possible with the help of strength training!

The staff of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney in Australia set up an experiment that suggests that age-related moderate cognitive impairment can be reversed. 100 people aged 55 to 86 years who were diagnosed with moderate cognitive impairment were invited to participate in the experiment.

It was a double-blind randomised trial, i.e. the participants of the experiment did not even know about its true purpose. The participants were divided into four groups, each of which had its mode of passing the experiment:

  • Strength training + computerised cognitive training.
  • Strength training + watching nature videos (the so-called placebo of cognitive training).
  • Stretching + gymnastics + computerised cognitive training.
  • Stretching + gymnastics + watching nature videos (the so-called placebo of cognitive training).

Taking into account the age of the participants, all precautions were taken to organise strength training: they trained twice a week with a weight of 80% of the maximum that they could lift or shift in a particular exercise. As physical strength increased, the training weight increased to be 80% of the maximum possible for a particular participant.

At the beginning of the experiment and its end, i.e. after six months of training, all participants were tested on the cognitive function scale and the Alzheimer’s disease assessment scale. It turned out that the participants of the first group showed the greatest progress, where strength exercises were combined with full-fledged computer cognitive training.

4. Your Mood Will Improve and Stress Will Go Away

The brain is responsible for emotions and mood, meaning that changes in the brain can affect your mood. You do not even need deep scientific research here – just play football, ride a bike or take a walk in the park, and you will notice that your mood will improve, and the symptoms of stress, if not disappeared, have at least eased.

The joy that sports give us is easy to explain. With physical activity, the production of ‘happiness’ hormones increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Dopamine is produced by the pituitary gland, endorphins are produced in the neurons of the brain, serotonin is also partially synthesized in the brain.

In addition, the mood boost appears thanks to endocannabinoids. These are neurotransmitter molecules that are synthesized in the brain and affect the neurons of various nerve centres. The release of neurotransmitters, which occurs under the influence of physical activity, reduces anxiety and causes mild euphoria. In addition, endocannabinoids have a positive effect on memory, learning ability and even have some analgesic effects.

5. Your Brain Volume Will Increase

Finnish scientists conducted a study that demonstrated that regular exercise leads to an increase in the brain regions responsible for coordination and movement. This very interesting study was organised by Dr. Urho Kujala from the University of Jyvaskyl.

10 pairs of identical male twins aged 32-36 years were selected to participate in the study. The main condition for participation in the experiment was the difference in the level of physical activity over the past three years. At the start of the study, scientists collected data on how actively each of the twins spent their free time, how often and intensively they exercised. Couples were involved in the study, where one of the twins was active and engaged in sports, and the other preferred a more relaxing holiday and was less active.

Thus, it was possible to form pairs with the same genetic data, but different levels of physical activity. Then, using magnetic resonance imaging, scientists studied the brains of each to identify possible differences in structure. The scientists’ expectations were fully justified: in more active men, the volume of the brain regions that are responsible for coordination and movement was greater than in their twin brothers.

There is an assumption that the increase in the volume of these parts of the brain is partly due to improved blood circulation, and partly due to an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support signal transmission, neuron growth, and the formation of neural connections.

There is also an assumption that an increase in the volume of areas of the brain responsible for coordination and movement will help in old age to maintain motor activity longer, the ability to keep balance and move faster.

Finally, let us highlight the best sports for your specific goals:

SportsBenefits
Cycling, swimming, running, aerobics, dancingTo help improve intelligence, memory, mood, development of divergent thinking, increase brain volume, stress prevention.
Strength exercises, weight training, training on simulatorsFor aid in the prevention of cognitive impairment and neutralisation of moderate age-related cognitive disorders.
Swimming, dancing, cycling, volleyball, basketball, lawn, and table tennisTo help improve concentration, and sensory abilities.
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