We all know how important exercise is for maintaining our physical health, but new research suggests that it is equally as valuable for the wellbeing of our brain.
The team from the University of Arizona report that our grey matter evolved to need exercise, and subsequently it “significantly” benefits structure and function.
This could explain why runner’s brains are “more connected” than non-runners, although it isn’t exactly clear which exercises are best for your brain at this stage.
The team speculate that the established link between exercise and brains first developed as an evolutionary aid nearly two million years ago.
When humans transitioned from a sedentary ape existence, spent sitting around in trees, to becoming nomadic hunter-gatherers, we started undertaking more complex foraging tasks that were demanding on both our bodies and mental faculties.
Causing our physiology to evolve to respond to increases in physical activity.
David Raichlen explained this adaptation: “It’s very odd to think that moving your body should affect your brain in this way — that exercise should have some beneficial impact on brain structure and function.
“But if you start thinking about it from an evolutionary perspective, you can start to piece together why that system would adaptively respond to exercise challenges and stresses.”
Not only could this help future research look at ways to enhance the benefits of exercise, and use in conjunction with those suffering age-related brain decline, to potentially counteract this.
But it also forces scientists to look at how our modern sedentary lifestyles could be causing the brains to begin atrophy (to waste away) because they are not being stressed enough physically.
Gene Alexander, who worked on the study, said: “What we’re proposing is, if you’re not sufficiently engaged in this kind of cognitively challenging aerobic activity, then this may be responsible for what we often see as healthy brain aging, where people start to show some diminished cognitive abilities.
“Our evolutionary history suggests that we are, fundamentally, cognitively engaged endurance athletes, and that if we don’t remain active we’re going to have this loss of capacity in response to that.”
Notably the parts of the brain most taxed during foraging - areas that play a key role in memory and executive functions such as problem solving and planning.