While we are all aware that exercise improves our physical fitness, did you know it also deeply impacts our mental health? Consistent complex exercises can better the cognitive abilities our mind has. In fact, a new research is shedding light on the mental health benefits of exercise.
Indulging in sports activities and exercising has been proved to improve your cognitive performance, but which type and how much exercise will keep your mind in top shape?
This is the question that has been explored by researchers through a large-scale analysis.
Carried out at the University of Basel and their colleagues at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the study delved deep into the connection between sports and cognition and studies the mental health benefits of exercise.
How do coordinated sports improve our cognitive performance?
The research group with the participation of Dr Sebastian Ludyga and Professor Uwe Puhse evaluated 80 individual studies to identify a few key characteristics. They found that endurance training, strength training, or a mix of these components seem to improve cognitive performance.
However, coordinated and challenging sports that require complex movement patterns and interaction with fellow players are significantly more effective. “To coordinate during a sport seems to be even more important than the total volume of the sporting activity,” explained Ludyga.
They also found that a longer duration during each burst of activity promised a greater improvement in cognitive performance only after it was continued for a little while.
The benefits of mental fitness are not age-specific
Just like our physical condition, cognitive performance changes over the course of our lives. It is great for the potential for improvement during childhood (cognitive development phase) and during old age (cognitive degradation phase).
However, the research group of the Department of Sport, Exercise and Health (DSBG) at the University of Basel was unable to find an indicator of different levels of effectiveness of sporting activities within the varying age groups.
Furthermore, sporting activities from primary school age to later age do not have to be fundamentally different in order to improve cognitive performance. Different age groups can thus be combined for a common goal during sports.
“This is already being implemented selectively with joint exercise programs for children and their grandparents,” says Puhse. Such programs could thus be further expanded.
What’s the connection between the intensity of exercise and gender on the effectiveness of mental fitness?
The same volume of sports activity has a different effect on physical fitness for men and women, as we are already aware. However, the research group has now been able to verify this for mental fitness. Men accordingly benefit more from sporting activity.
Differences between the sexes are particularly evident in the intensity of movement, but not in the type of sport. A hard workout seems to be particularly worthwhile for boys and men. Paired with a gradual increase in intensity, this leads to a significantly greater improvement in cognitive performance over a longer period of time.
In contrast, the positive effect on women and girls disappears if the intensity is increased too quickly. The results of the research suggest that they should choose low to medium intensity sporting activities if they want to increase their cognitive fitness.
So ladies, when it comes to choosing the most effective exercise for churning out optimum mental fitness benefits, medium intensity sporting activities shall work well.