What’s the connection between physical and mental exercises? What’s the difference between going to the gym and enrolling in brain training programs? Today we’re going to review what we know about the effectiveness of exercise on our brains and how physical exercise can help improve our cognitive functions.

Even early studies performed where groups of people who didn’t exercise were compared to groups of those who did found that people who exercised regularly usually had a better range of cognitive tasks compared to the other group. A more recent study even found that fitness training for people over the age of 65 who had cognitive impairment and dementia had similar beneficial effects.

So how does fitness training effect the brain itself? Research with ani­mals has shown that in mice, increased aer­o­bic fit­ness (run­ning) can increase the num­ber of new cells formed in the part of the brain crucial for learning and memory. Increased exer­cise also has a beneficial effect on mice’s vascular system. Unfortunately, there has only been one study using brain imaging to look at the effect of fitness on the human brain. In 2006, this study found that brain volume of the aerobic exercising group increased in several areas compared to that of the other group.

So how does physical exercise compare to mental exercise? Studies have shown that  the effects of cog­ni­tive and fit­ness train­ing may be addi­tive but more studies need to be done. In the meantime, we believe we should play it safe and combine both fitness and cognitive brain training for better brain health.