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Exercise tones women’s minds as well as their bodies
Young women who regularly exercise may have more oxygen circulating in their brains and, as a result may have sharper minds, according to a study by the University of Otago.
While the findings, from a study of 52 healthy young women, don't prove that exercise makes women smarter, lead researcher Dr Liana Machado believes it is "reasonable" to conclude that exercise likely boosts mental prowess even when people are young and healthy.
Previous studies have found that older adults who exercise tend to have better blood flow in the brain, and do better on tests of memory and other mental skills, versus sedentary people of the same age, the authors point out.
With fewer studies having focused on young adults, this study targeted women between 18 and 30.
Writing in the journal Psychophysiology, the researchers highlight that the "predominant view" has been that young adults' brains are operating at their lifetime peak, no matter what their exercise level. But in this study, brain imaging showed that the oxygen supply in young women's brains did vary depending on their exercise habits.
The study found that compared with their less-active peers, women who exercised most days of the week had more oxygen circulating in the frontal lobe during a battery of mental tasks.
The frontal lobe governs some vital functions, including the ability to plan, make decisions and retain memories longer-term.
Machado's team found that active women did particularly well on tasks that measured "cognitive inhibitory control."
Machado explained “that refers to the ability to suppress reflexive responses and instead respond strategically, using self-control.”
That skill turns up a lot in daily life, she noted, whether in playing a video game or driving a car.
Similarly, the researchers found a link between higher brain oxygen levels and women's performance on the toughest test in the battery - where the challenge was to combine inhibitory control with multitasking.
While none of that proves cause-and-effect, Machado added "it seems reasonable to deduce that a causal relationship likely exists - where regular physical activity increases oxygen availability in the brain, which in turn supports better cognitive performance, particularly for more challenging tasks."
Women in this study were considered to be meeting guidelines on regular exercise if they got at least 30 minutes of moderate activity (such as brisk walking) or 15 minutes of vigorous
Click here to view the study 'Near-infrared spectroscopy reveals link between chronic physical activity and anterior frontal oxygenated hemoglobin in healthy young women' in the journal Psychophysiology.
Lower image courtesy of Life Fitness.
13th January 2015 - LORNA JANE LAUNCHES WOMEN’S FITNESS CHALLENGE
1st June 2014 - INACTIVITY IN WOMEN OVER 30 A GREATER HEALTH RISK THAN SMOKING
5th September 2013 - RESEARCH SHOWS MELBOURNE WOMEN MISSING OUT ON EXERCISE
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