Moderate physical activity is linked to thinking faster, increased attention span, improved problem solving abilities and improved working memory across all age groups. The effect increases with age.
A single bout of physical activity increases cerebral blood flow and neurotransmitter (dopamine/endorphin) levels, resulting in increased levels of arousal, attention and effort, which in turn positively influences the performance of cognitive tasks shortly after performing physical activity (Best, 2010; Kashihara et al., 2009; Tomporowski, 2003).
Repeated bouts of physical activity has been shown to lead to an increase in blood vessels (Best, 2010), formation of synapses and new neurons in the brain (Hillman et al., 2015; Ross et al., 2015). Such changes in brain structure may lead to enhanced cognitive outcomes and academic performance (Best, 2010).
This highlights the importance of maintaining physical activity levels across the lifespan. As well as improving cognitive ability, physical activity can be used to prevent or reverse cognitive and neural decline. Therefore physical activity not only improves health and cognitive function of individuals and subsequent societal improvements, it also reduces healthcare costs.
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