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Learn Faster -- Put On Those Running Shoes: Study

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running-shoes-can-lead-to-faster-learning JupiterImages/Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

Have you noticed that people who seem mentally sharper are also the ones who take brisk walks, go jogging, dancing, bicycling, swimming or have similar activities built into their daily routines?

There is a study from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland which proves that aerobic fitness has a positive effect on cognitive functions.

It has been noted for some time that in the elderly population, those who are physically active are less susceptible to age-related neural degeneration and subsequently cognitive decline, compared to those who lead sedentary lifestyles in the same age group.

The positive relation between increased physical activity which causes a corresponding increase in aerobic capacity and ability to learn, retain, and apply, has been found true in both humans and animals.

Aerobic capacity denotes the functional capacity of the heart, lungs, artery and veins. This means that it reflects what maximum amount of oxygen the body can use through the cardiorespiratory system in a specified period of time to be able to do an intense or exertive activity.

Scientists were however unsure whether it was the direct impact of the increased aerobic capacity, or the feelings of wellbeing and enrichment, that were promoting learning and making cognitive activities easier. This new study clearly pointed out that aerobic fitness, not physical activity as such, promotes cognitive abilities.

The study was conducted upon rat strains bred at the University of Michigan where 23 generations of rats were bred to give two types of groups for the experiment -- natural-born long distance runners and those which were poor runners.

The two strains recorded a 500 percent difference in maximal endurance test which were designed to be similar to endurance tests for humans. The two strains of rats were then trained in a discrimination-learning test designed to use flexible cognition.

As the first phase of the test, the two strains were trained to catch a food reward in the presence of one particular tone, and ignore another tone. In the second phase, the rats were required learn a new rule as the tone stimulation was reversed.

It was observed that rats with intrinsically higher aerobic capacity clearly outperformed those with intrinsically lower aerobic capacity. Another point that was noted was that no physical exercises were given to the rats immediately prior to holding the cognitive tests.

The results thus demonstrated that it was actually aerobic capacity and not just physical activity that helps benefit flexible cognition. (1)

In humans, the study of sport sciences have made it known that being engaged in regular physical workouts of aerobic nature helps attain good aerobic capacity.

As per Wikgren, Senior Researcher at the Department of Psychology and Kainulainen, Professor of Exercise Physiology, "In future experiments we aim at studying the possible differences between these strains from the molecular to neuro-physiological levels of analysis. Ultimately, we hope to investigate plausible exercise interventions that protect the brain from the detrimental effects of ageing. At least it is safe to say that physical activity is good for your brain at any age." (2)


1. Good Aerobic Capacity Promotes Learning; Science Daily News; March 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120213084208.htm

2. Good aerobic capacity promotes learning; Alpha Galileo Foundation; March 2012; http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=117390&CultureCode=en

Technical report of the study may be accessed at:

1. Selective breeding for endurance running capacity affects cognitive but not motor learning in rats; Science Direct – Sciverse via Elsevier; March 2012; http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938412000236


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer: ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1 (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman: ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2 (Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Your-Mind-Tested-Mantras/dp/8120759737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316063179&sr=8-1) and the upcoming Women’s Complete Fitness Guide (Publisher: Hay House India).

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites. She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health.

Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation. Please visit www.mamtasingh.com

Reviewed April 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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