We all know it is important to stay fit. More particularly, aerobics exercising (exercising the heart) is important to improve physical and mental health. But why?
“Mens sana in corpore sana”: “A sound mind in a sound body” we should pray for, suggested the latin poet Juvenal.
Indeed, several studies have shown that across the lifespan, physical activity (in particular aerobic exercise) is associated with a reduction of not only physical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and colon and breast cancer, but also mental disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders.
What should you do to get the benefit?
In order to profit from substantial overall health benefits, 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity per day is advised. However, 74% of US adults do not meet this criteria.
Fact is that children are getting increasingly sedentary and unfit, which is associated with an earlier onset of diabetes and obesity. Given that aerobic fitness has a positive relation to academic achievement, whereas body mass index (BMI) does not, it has been suggested that physical activity during childhood might encourage optimal cortical development, promoting lasting changes in brain structure and function. Indeed, early physical activity might be important for the improvement and/or maintenance of cognitive health and function throughout the adult lifespan.
In older adults, aerobic exercise, compared to stretching or toning exercise, has been found to be beneficial in compensating for cognitive decline, in particular in tasks that involve the controlling of our thoughts or goal directed behavior. Moreover, it has been found that physical activity, together with intellectual engagement, social interaction and diet, are important in reducing the risk for age-associated neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Remarkably, higher levels of fitness and fitness improvements were related to larger volumes of prefrontal and temporal grey matter in the brain, which gives an indication of the role of aerobic fitness in maintaining and enhancing the central nervous system and cognitive functioning in older adults.
In sum, across the life span, aerobic exercise seems to enhance cognition more than other forms of physical activities. Physical activity may be useful to reverse recent obesity and disease trends and to prevent or reverse cognitive and neural decline.