Can exercise boost your brain health?

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It’s widely believed that exercising can help keep the brain healthy and functioning properly. However, a recent review of studies at the University of Granada suggests that there is little scientific evidence to support this idea.

Individual clinical trials have suggested that regular exercise can help maintain brain health.

But a combined review of 109 trials involving more than 11,000 healthy people found weak overall evidence for this notion, according to a report published in Nature Human Behaviour.

They found there is little evidence for a positive link between regular physical exercise and improved cognition in healthy people.

The new evidence review focused on clinical trials, which are considered the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of drugs or therapies.

While there has been a steady flow of clinical trials reporting the brain benefits of regular physical exercise in healthy individuals over the last 50 years, these trials are often beset by low-quality design, too few participants, and potential bias.

Consequently, these trials frequently overlook mixed or contradictory findings.

The researchers decided to take a step back and reassess the state of the evidence by performing an umbrella analysis of data from 24 prior evidence reviews.

The researchers found that small but statistically significant positive effects of exercise on brain function disappeared after accounting for factors related to how the studies were conducted.

For example, some studies compared their exercise group to a completely passive control group, while others compared it to a less-active control group.

Not surprisingly, a larger benefit tended to be observed when active folks were compared to sedentary controls.

Other studies found greater benefits from physical exercise when the mental performance of the experimental group was lower than the control group at the beginning.

When the data were re-analyzed with these potential biases in mind, there was little to no evidence that a healthy person’s brain benefits from exercise.

The team researchers hope that their findings will serve as a call for rethinking public health policies that encourage exercise adherence based on its reputed cognitive benefits.

Organizations committed to public health, such as the World Health Organization or the National Institutes of Health, currently recommend regular exercise as a means to maintain a healthy cognitive state, which based on our findings cannot be affirmed.

While acknowledging the significant problems with many clinical trials aimed at testing the benefits of exercise on brain health, the team believes that the new review overlooks important scientific evidence gathered from other types of studies.

For example, observational studies can track people for years rather than months, and therefore, have a better opportunity to detect long-term brain improvement or decline.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease.

The study was conducted by Luis Ciria et al and published in Nature Human Behaviour.

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