Spring is around the corner and many of us fitness junkies are eager to make our annual migration from the treadmill to the sidewalk. It’s no hidden truth that going for a morning run is much more enjoyable when you’re breathing in fresh air under the glorious sun. However, not all days bless us with the opportunity to jog outside, especially in Canada. To help you stay motivated, we have written this blog post outlining two of the major benefits that come from aerobic exercise. Understanding these benefits may give you the boost you need to stay running through the last few weeks of winter
#1: Improves Cognition
Cognition can be defined as the way in which our minds process thought. Many believe that having high quality thoughts is the key to having a high quality life, so let’s all make an effort to improve our cognition! In 2010, a meta-analytic review was conducted on several randomized controlled trials examining the association between aerobic exercise and neurocognitive performance. In total, 2,049 participants were included in this meta-analysis from 29 individual studies. A meta-analysis is simply a way in which the data from a variety of similar studies can be pooled together to derive an overall conclusion for a group of findings. The results from this meta-analysis demonstrated associations between aerobic exercise and cognitive function(processing speed , executive function and memory) in adults. We have organized the results from this study into this easy to read chart:
|Function||Average Increase In Function||Hedge’s G (95% CI)||P-Value|
|Processing Speed||15.8%||.158 [95% CI: .055 to .260]||.003|
|Executive Function||12.3%||.123 [95% CI: .021 to .225]||.018|
|Short Term Memory||12.8%||.128 [95% CI: .015 to .241]||.026|
The majority of the studies defined aerobic activity as reaching 70% of peak VO2 max levels 3 times per week (prescribed in accordance with the American Heart Association recommendations for cardiac rehabilitation) for a minimum period of 1 month. Although the duration of each session was not specified in the review, we looked into the individual studies and saw that the sessions lasted for 30 to 60 minutes on average. The review also concluded that an increase from the base workout time/intensity was not associated with an additional increase in cognition. Listed below are the tested used by the studies to measure cognition.
|Cognitive Test||Studies||Function||Hedge’s G (95% CI)||P-Value|
|Digit Symbol Substitution||8||Attention / Processing Speed||.146 (−.002 to .294)||.052|
|Complex / Choice Reaction Time||8||Attention / Processing Speed||.112 (−.064 to .288)||.898|
|Simple Reaction Time||8||Attention / Processing Speed||.088 (−.118 to .295)||.116|
|Ruff 2 & 7 Test||2||Attention / Processing Speed||.052 (−.224 to .327)||.715|
|Trail Making Test Section A||2||Attention / Processing Speed||.169 (−.144 to .482)||.291|
|Stroop Interference||7||Executive Function||.027 (−.149 to .204)||.761|
|Trail Making Test Section B||5||Executive Function||.234 (.042 to .426)||.017|
|Animal Naming / Verbal Fluency||4||Executive Function||.275 (.006 to .545)||.045|
|Controlled Oral Word Association Test||2||Executive Function||−.015 (−.239 to .229)||.894|
|Logical Memory, Immediate Recall||5||Memory||.151 (−.050 to 352)||.140|
|Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test||4||Memory||.113 (−.082 to .308)||.255|
|Digit Span||6||Working Memory||.065 (−.079 to .209)||.373|
|WAIS Letter-Number Sequencing||2||Working Memory||−.134 (−.469 to .202)||.435|
These tests were used to determine the effects that aerobic activity had on memory, executive function and processing speed. Processing speed is the ability to automatically and fluently perform over learned tasks. Think of this as the brains natural reflex when familiar tasks are thrown at it. By improving the rate at which you process your surroundings you are essentially “thinking quicker on your feet”. Being able think quick has a variety of benefits, especially when you’re at the bar! Other than processing speed and memory (we won’t get into it’s since its pretty straight forward), this study also looked at the effect aerobic exercise had on executive functions. Executive functions include a whole slew of functions that are used to in conjunction to organize and accomplish tasks. An increase in executive function can lead to an increase in goal setting, self control and overall success. So, do your self a favor, muster up all the executive functionality you have and go for a run! It will only get easier and become more beneficial with time!
#2: Increases Longevity
Some may say that we are here for a good time and not a long time, but why not have both? The following study examined the association between physical activity and longevity. The data was pool from six prospective cohort studies in the National Cancer Institute Cohort Consortium. This consortium is comprised of 654,827 individuals, indicating that data is reliable. The study concluded that an increase in leisure time activity was associated with longer life expectancy, regardless of age (21 – 90 years), activity level and BMI. In general, performing physical activity equivalent to brisk walking for up to 75 minutes , once per week, is associated with a 1.8-year gain in life expectancy. For those of us who can handle a more intense workout, increasing intensity or frequency to 22.5+ MET-h/wk (equivalent to 450+ minutes of brisk walking a week) is associated with a 4.5 year gain in life expectancy.
For those of us who are just starting their fitness journey, this study has some relevant findings for you as well. An association was made between Individuals with a normal weight (BMI of 18.5 – 24.9) exerting (7.5+ MET-h/wk) of physical activity and an increased lifespan of 7.5 years over those who are obese (BMI of 35.0+) exerting no physical activity. Overall, this study applies to people of all ages and fitness levels, so get moving! There are a variety of bad habits the majority of us indulge in that shorten our lifespan but help some of us have a good time. We are not all perfect. What better way to compensate for that extra glass wine then to go for a leg crushing run or even a brisk walk the day after. Finding balance is the key to living a good life and a long life!
Thanks For Reading!
At Healthy Helix, our aim is to provide our readers with the most accurate and reliable information on health and wellness, which is why we must disclaim some uncertainties in the results of the cognition paper referenced in this blogpost. There was a lack of high quality studies included in the meta-analysis, meaning that the methods of obtaining and tracking data varied substantially between individual trials. There was also not enough range in exercise prescriptions the majority of studies prescribed the same level of aerobic activity (70% VO2 max, 3 times a week). The results of this review would have been more conclusive if there was a range in exercise prescriptions in order to observe a linear effect on neurocognition. The last point we would like to mention is that the population size for this review was very small for a meta-analysis. The larger the population size in a study, the more reliable the results are in most scenarios. Despite the small population size, lack of variation of aerobic activity and lack of high quality studies, this review has some merit. A meta-analysis is considered by many to be the gold standard of research, so we feel comfortable in believing that aerobic activity, especially running, can improve cognition.
Smith, P.J.; et al. (2010). “Aerobic Exercise and Neurocognitive Performance: a Meta-Analytic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials”. Psychosom Med. 2010 Apr; 72(3): 239–252. Published online 2010 Mar 11. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d14633 Impact Factor: 3.968 (2011)
Moore, S.C.; et al. (2012). “Leisure time physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity and mortality: A large pooled cohort analysis”. PLoS Medicine. 9 (11): e1001335. Published online 2010 Nov 6. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335 Impact Factor: 13.585 (2015)