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Your Brain & Fitness

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Doing brainteasers, sudoku puzzles, crosswords, or engaging your brain in learning activities are all ways to keep your brain “fit”—but did you know that keeping your body fit also boosts your cognitive function?

A recent September study in Scientific Reports has correlated that physical fitness influences the brain’s cognitive ability.  Over 1,000 healthy adults volunteered for the study, and their physical endurance was tested before taking a cognitively demanding test.  The endurance test they were given consisted of a walking endurance test in which the participants walked as quickly as they could for two minutes.  At the end of the two minutes, their distance was measured.

The researchers then took this information and used full diffusion MRI to analyze their brains.  They also underwent a cognition test which tested reading recognitions, picture sequence memory, pattern comparison, list sorting, card sorting, and picture vocabulary.  The research team discovered that a higher physical fitness level was associated with more preservation of white matter in the brain and better cognitive performance.  The microstructure of the white matter was affected by physical fitness, and it was also associated with better memory.

This influence of physical fitness on the microstructure of the white matter was associated with episodic memory; however, other tests for attention did not show any relationship to the white matter.

This study presented information on the effect of physical fitness on cognitive function differently than tests in the past.  This study tested cognitive function on several different cognitive domains (which had the most significant results in the areas of fluid intelligence, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility).

Next time you’re headed to the gym and you need a little kick-start to motivate you, remember to stay fit for your brain!


  1. Opel, Nils, et al. “White Matter Microstructure Mediates the Association between Physical Fitness and Cognition in Healthy, Young Adults.” Scientific Reports, vol. 9, no. 12885, 9 Sept. 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49301-y?utm_source=commission_junction&utm_medium=affiliate.


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