Exercise is brain food: the effects of physical activity on cognitive function.

Clinical Research, Rehabilitation Program, Eastern Health Authority, St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
Developmental neurorehabilitation (Impact Factor: 1.48). 01/2008; 11(3):236-40. DOI: 10.1080/17518420801997007
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT This commentary reviews selected biomedical and clinical research examining the relationship between physical exercise and cognitive function especially in youth with disability. Youth with physical disability may not benefit from the effects of exercise on cardiovascular fitness and brain health since they are less active than their non-disabled peers. In animal models, physical activity enhances memory and learning, promotes neurogenesis and protects the nervous system from injury and neurodegenerative disease. Neurotrophins, endogenous proteins that support brain plasticity likely mediate the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain. In clinical studies, exercise increases brain volume in areas implicated in executive processing, improves cognition in children with cerebral palsy and enhances phonemic skill in school children with reading difficulty. Studies examining the intensity of exercise required to optimize neurotrophins suggest that moderation is important. Sustained increases in neurotrophin levels occur with prolonged low intensity exercise, while higher intensity exercise, in a rat model of brain injury, elevates the stress hormone, corticosterone. Clearly, moderate physical activity is important for youth whose brains are highly plastic and perhaps even more critical for young people with physical disability.

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    ABSTRACT: Introduction A growing body of literature reveals the causal pathways between physical activity and brain function, indicating that increasing physical activity among children could improve rather than undermine their scholastic performance. However, past studies of physical activity and scholastic performance among students often relied on parent-reported grade information, and did not explore whether the association varied among different levels of scholastic performance. Our study among fifth-grade students in Shanghai sought to determine the association between regular physical activity and teacher-reported academic performance scores (APS), with special attention to the differential associational patterns across different strata of scholastic performance. Method A total of 2,225 students were chosen through a stratified random sampling, and a complete sample of 1470 observations were used for analysis. We used a quantile regression analysis to explore whether the association between physical activity and teacher-reported APS differs by distribution of APS. Results Minimal-intensity physical activity such as walking was positively associated with academic performance scores (β = 0.13, SE = 0.04). The magnitude of the association tends to be larger at the lower end of the APS distribution (β = 0.24, SE = 0.08) than in the higher end of the distribution (β = 0.00, SE = 0.07). Conclusion Based upon teacher-reported student academic performance, there is no evidence that spending time on frequent physical activity would undermine student’s APS. Those students who are below the average in their academic performance could be worse off in academic performance if they give up minimal-intensity physical activity. Therefore, cutting physical activity time in schools could hurt the scholastic performance among those students who were already at higher risk for dropping out due to inadequate APS.
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May 22, 2014