Exercise & Brain Health: High-Intensity Interval Training May Be the Best Exercise to Stretch Your Brain by 30Seconds Health
High intensity interval training and continuous moderate exercise deliver greater mental benefits to the brain than sustained strenuous exercise, a South Australian study has found.
Researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) in Adelaide conducted multiple experiments involving 128 people whose brains were monitored after a single bout of aerobic exercise on a stationary bike and treadmill. The experiments ranged from low-intensity continuous exercise to high-intensity interval exercise, with the heart rate varying between 50 to 90 percent intensity.
UniSA researcher Dr. Ashleigh Smith and her Ph.D. student Maddison Mellow found that the greatest changes in neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire or modify its neural connections – occurred with 20 minutes of interval training or 25 minutes of continuous moderate aerobic exercise.
Dr. Smith says cycling or running at full speed without mixing up the tempo may elevate the stress hormone, cortisol, blocking the positive effects. “We already know that engaging in regular aerobic exercise is good for the brain, improving memory, attention and learning,” she says. “However, we need to understand why it is so beneficial and what the best exercise, intensity and duration is.”
Cortisol appeared to play a major role in whether an exercise was mentally beneficial, says Dr. Smith. She says high cortisol levels blocked neuroplastic responses, yet interval training may allow a sweet spot for cortisol rates to return to normal levels.
“What makes the brain special is that, unlike a computer, it processes sensory and motor signals in parallel,” says Dr. Smith. “It has many neural pathways that can replicate another’s function so that if the brain is damaged it can re-route signals along a different pathway. The more elastic the brain, the easier this is.”
Learn more about this exercise and brain health study.
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