Whoever came up with the idea that intelligence and physical activity don’t mix should be dropped into one of the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno. Two new studies, both described in Neuroscience News, further expand our view of how exercise can help improve cognitive activity.
One study found that“young adults who have greater aerobic fitness also have greater volume of their entorhinal cortex, an area of the brain responsible for memory.” As the article abstract explains,
Our results show a positive association between volume in right entorhinal cortex and cardio-respiratory fitness. In addition, average gray matter volume in the entorhinal cortex, bilaterally, was positively associated with memory performance. These data extend prior work on the cerebral effects of aerobic exercise and fitness to the entorhinal cortex in healthy young adults thus providing compelling evidence for a relationship between aerobic fitness and structure of the medial temporal lobe memory system.
The second study was conducted on mice, and found that “mice that spent time running on wheels not only developed twice the normal number of new neurons, but also showed an increased ability to distinguish new objects from familiar objects.” Too much running (like ultra marathon-level running) seems to shrink the brain, but University of Basel professor Josef Bischofberger explains that
exercise-induced increase in neurogenesis improves pattern separation by supporting unique and detailed long-term representations of similar but nevertheless different memory items. Pattern separation is involved in many memory tasks of everyday life. For example, when learning the game of chess, it is critically important to remember the different shapes of pieces like the pawn and bishop. Similarly, remembering the precise pattern of pieces on the board during a previously successful opening or endgame may decide who will win or lose.
Of course, this is a study done on mice and not humans, so the usual caveats apply. However, these are reasons 11,201 and 11,202 to get out and exercise if you want to be smarter.