Have you noticed that people who seem mentally sharper are also the ones who take brisk walks, go jogging, dancing, bicycling, swimming or have similar activities built into their daily routines?
There is a study from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland which proves that aerobic fitness has a positive effect on cognitive functions.
It has been noted for some time that in the elderly population, those who are physically active are less susceptible to age-related neural degeneration and subsequently cognitive decline, compared to those who lead sedentary lifestyles in the same age group.
The positive relation between increased physical activity which causes a corresponding increase in aerobic capacity and ability to learn, retain, and apply, has been found true in both humans and animals.
Aerobic capacity denotes the functional capacity of the heart, lungs, artery and veins. This means that it reflects what maximum amount of oxygen the body can use through the cardiorespiratory system in a specified period of time to be able to do an intense or exertive activity.
Scientists were however unsure whether it was the direct impact of the increased aerobic capacity, or the feelings of wellbeing and enrichment, that were promoting learning and making cognitive activities easier. This new study clearly pointed out that aerobic fitness, not physical activity as such, promotes cognitive abilities.
The study was conducted upon rat strains bred at the University of Michigan where 23 generations of rats were bred to give two types of groups for the experiment -- natural-born long distance runners and those which were poor runners.
The two strains recorded a 500 percent difference in maximal endurance test which were designed to be similar to endurance tests for humans. The two strains of rats were then trained in a discrimination-learning test designed to use flexible cognition.
As the first phase of the test, the two strains were trained to catch a food reward in the presence of one particular tone, and ignore another tone. In the second phase, the rats were required learn a new rule as the tone stimulation was reversed.