Robb Report - Health & Wellness

August 19, 2015

Intelligent Questions to Ask Your Doctor Summer 2015 - 

A 30-minute bout of moderate-intensity exercise increased concentration and reasoning ability in the subjects of a new study.

Q: Does that effect last throughout the day, or does it happen only immediately after the exercise?

A: Some studies have looked at regular sustained exercise—when people walk for a half-hour three days a week, or walk 15 minutes per day, or do something to get cardiovascular exercise—and if one does that over a period of time, one does see sustained benefits. How long a single exercise session may provide benefits depends on the intensity and duration of the particular exercise. Of course, the effects wear off over time; however, continued cardiovascular conditioning has a definite impact. A University of Illinois study found that regular aerobic conditioning actually led to growth of the hippocampus, a key memory center of the brain. And there is a correlation between the growth of the hippocampus and a better-functioning brain.

There is an immediate mental boost with cardiovascular and strength training that we experience subjectively: mental clarity, alertness, and improved mood. We know from other studies that physical conditioning will increase endorphins, which are natural antidepressants. Some individuals experience a reduction in pain as a result of exercise, and it also promotes an increased anti-inflammatory effect. (One of the challenges with brain aging in general is that we have too much inflammation, which can damage healthy brain cells.)

The short answer is that exercise confers an immediate effect that is positive, and if one continues to exercise on a regular basis, there will be sustained effects.

—Gary W. Small, MD, Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and director of the UCLA Longevity Center

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