Ploughman M. 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: 2.05). 01/2008; 11(3):236-40. DOI: 10.1080/17518420801997007
Source: PubMed


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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    • "As a result, the effectiveness of regular exercise behavior as a means to improve cognitive performance remains a subject of debate, not only among scientists, but also among policy makers. When published findings are summarized , associations between exercise behavior and cognitive performance appear positive on average, but vary considerably in strength (Fedewa & Ahn, 2011; Hindin & Zelinski, 2012; Ploughman, 2008; Singh, Uijtdewilligen, Twisk, van Mechelen, & Chinapaw, 2012; Taras, 2005; Trudeau & Shephard, 2008; Verburgh, Konigs, Scherder, & Oosterlaan, 2014). The literature provides four major sources of heterogeneity among study outcomes, the first concerning sample constitution (Singh et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Regular exercise has often been suggested to have beneficial effects on cognition, but empirical findings are mixed because of heterogeneity in sample composition (age and sex); the cognitive domain being investigated; the definition and reliability of exercise behavior measures; and study design (e.g., observational versus experimental). Our aim was to scrutinize the domain specificity of exercise effects on cognition, while controlling for the other sources of heterogeneity. In a population based sample consisting of 472 males and 668 females (aged 10-86years old) we administered the Computerized Neurocognitive Battery (CNB), which provided accuracy and speed measures of abstraction and mental flexibility, attention, working memory, memory (verbal, face, and spatial), language and nonverbal reasoning, spatial ability, emotion identification, emotion- and age differentiation, sensorimotor speed, and motor speed. Using univariate and multivariate regression models, CNB scores were associated with participants' average energy expenditure per week (weekly METhours), which were derived from a questionnaire on voluntary regular leisure time exercise behavior. Univariate models yielded generally positive associations between weekly METhours and cognitive accuracy and speed, but multivariate modeling demonstrated that direct relations were small and centered around zero. The largest and only significant effect size (β=0.11, p<0.001) was on the continuous performance test, which measures attention. Our results suggest that in the base population, any chronic effects of voluntary regular leisure time exercise on cognition are limited. Only a relation between exercise and attention inspires confidence. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Brain and Cognition 05/2015; 97:32-39. DOI:10.1016/j.bandc.2015.04.001 · 2.48 Impact Factor
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    • "Aside from the general health benefits of exercise (e.g., cardiovascular benefits, weight control), physical activity appears to be protective against stress-induced physical and psychological illness and may attenuate HPA axis dysregulation (Salmon, 2001; Tsatsoulis & Fountoulakis, 2006). Physical activity has been demonstrated to improve various aspects of cognitive function and behavior, improve sleep, and decrease risk and symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders (Erickson, Gildengers, & Butters, 2013; Ploughman, 2008; Tomporowski, 2003; Tsatsoulis & Fountoulakis, 2006). In humans, physical activity appears to decrease sensitivity to stress, which is likely at least partly due to adaptations of the HPA axis (Tsatsoulis & Fountoulakis, 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which may underlie some of the behavioral and adaptive problems seen in individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Infants prenatally exposed to alcohol show altered basal and post-stress cortisol levels, but it is unknown if this persists beyond 2 years of age. It is also unknown if cortisol levels can be normalized through intervention programs. In this study, we investigated the effects of a physical activity program for children with FASD to determine: 1) if HPA dysregulation persists in school-age children with FASD, and 2) the effect of our program on cortisol levels. Twenty six children (ages 6–14 years) with FASD participated in an 8 week motor skill development program. Salivary cortisol levels were measured in 24 children and compared at 4 time points: before, immediately after, 3 months, and 1 year after program completion. Cortisol levels were also compared to 32 control children to evaluate the long-term effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on HPA regulation. For each time point, saliva was collected on each of 2 days at 3 times in the diurnal cycle: awakening, after school, and just before bedtime. Cortisol levels were significantly higher in the afternoon and at bedtime in children with FASD with confirmed prenatal exposure to high levels of alcohol (alcohol exposure rank 4), compared with Control children or children with FASD with exposure to low or unknown levels of alcohol (alcohol exposure rank 3). The program did not significantly affect cortisol levels in children with FASD as a group. These results provide support for long-term effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on the HPA system in humans, which could increase vulnerability to mental health issues and diseases later in life.KeywordsFetal Alcohol Spectrum Disordercortisolprenatal alcohol exposureHPA axisexercisephysical activityintervention programs
    Alcohol 12/2014; 49(1). DOI:10.1016/j.alcohol.2014.11.004 · 2.01 Impact Factor
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    • "Specifically, PA may benefit cognitive function through improved oxygenation and blood flow in the brain, promotion of cerebral capillary growth, increase in neurotransmitter levels (e.g., serotonin, norepinephrine), production of neurotrophins (e.g., BDNF) that promote neural plasticity, and increases in brain tissue volume (for reviews, see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010; Halperin and Healey 2011; Hillman et al. 2008; Ploughman 2008). Regardless of the specific mechanism, PA appears to foster brain health in ways that could offer benefits to those experiencing ADHD symptoms. "
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    ABSTRACT: The goal of this study was to compare the effects of before school physical activity (PA) and sedentary classroom-based (SC) interventions on the symptoms, behavior, moodiness, and peer functioning of young children (M age = 6.83) at risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD-risk; n = 94) and typically developing children (TD; n = 108). Children were randomly assigned to either PA or SC and participated in the assigned intervention 31 min per day, each school day, over the course of 12 weeks. Parent and teacher ratings of ADHD symptoms (inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity), oppositional behavior, moodiness, behavior toward peers, and reputation with peers, were used as dependent variables. Primary analyses indicate that the PA intervention was more effective than the SC intervention at reducing inattention and moodiness in the home context. Less conservative follow-up analyses within ADHD status and intervention groups suggest that a PA intervention may reduce impairment associated with ADHD-risk in both home and school domains; interpretive caution is warranted, however, given the liberal approach to these analyses. Unexpectedly, these findings also indicate the potential utility of a before school SC intervention as a tool for managing ADHD symptoms. Inclusion of a no treatment control group in future studies will enable further understanding of PA as an alternative management strategy for ADHD symptoms.
    Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 09/2014; 43:655-667. DOI:10.1007/s10802-014-9929-y · 3.09 Impact Factor
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