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Deep Dive: Workouts for NERDs—Boosting cognition through specific types of exercise

According to this meta-analysis, exercise can boost brain power, but some types seem to work better than others.

Study under review: Systematic review and meta-analysis investigating moderators of long-term effects of exercise on cognition in healthy individuals

Introduction

Exercise has been associated with many benefits[1], including keeping the brain sharp. Whether it’s for kids at school[2] or elderly people attempting to combat age-related cognitive decline[3], exercise has been shown to have small to moderate effects on different measures of cognition, such as attention[4], executive function[5], and memory[6].

The frustrating thing is that existing studies evaluating the cognitive benefits of exercise have demonstrated a high level of heterogeneity and only included specific types of exercises, outcomes, and/or age groups. While some specifics have been picked out—for example, a meta-analysis demonstrated greater executive function in children and older adults[7] following a single exercise session—studies have demonstrated conflicting results[8].

Beyond age[9], other associated variables such as sex[10], exercise type[11], and dose/intensity[12] of exercise also appear to influence or moderate the benefits of exercise on cognition. The authors of the study under review aimed to evaluate the specific impacts of different inter-individual and exercise characteristics to optimize the benefits of long term exercise on cognition. They did this by conducting a meta-regression analysis of potential moderators of the relationship between exercise and cognition as a part of a large systematic review and meta-analysis.

While studies have demonstrated a small to moderate improvement in cognitive function from exercise, a high level of heterogeneity across studies leaves uncertainty regarding the impact of various moderators (e.g., age, sex, exercise type, and exercise dose and intensity) on the relationship. This led researchers to conduct a meta-regression analysis, as a part of a systematic review and meta-analysis, on potential moderators of the relationship in an attempt to optimize exercise recommendations for maximal cognitive benefits.

What was studied?

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The bigger picture

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Other Articles in Issue #68 (June 2020)