Here's even more evidence that physical fitness can help your brain: Canadian researchers have found that stroke survivors experience better memory, thinking and language skills with six months of exercise.
The study, presented at a meeting of the Canadian Stroke Congress, showed that mild cognitive impairment among people who had suffered a stroke decreased to 37 percent from 66 percent after they participated in a six-month exercise program that included both aerobic exercise and strength training.
"If we can improve cognition through exercise, which also has many physical benefits, then this should become a standard of care for people following stroke," study researcher Susan Marzolini, of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said in a statement.
The study included 41 people who had suffered a stroke. Seventy percent of the participants needed to use a cane or walker because of walking problems.
The participants completed exercise as part of the program for five days a week for six months. Researchers found that by the end of the study, not only did the participants experience brain benefits, but their physical fitness -- in the form of strength and ability to walk -- had also improved.
For more ways exercise can help your noggin, click through the slideshow:
It Sharpens Thinking
Earlier this year, Dartmouth researchers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/exercise-makes-you-smarter-adhd-research_n_1528383.html">added support to mounting evidence about the way that exercise affects learning</a> and mental acuity: it boosts the production of “brain derived neurotrophic factor" -- or BDNF – a protein that is thought to help with mental acuity, learning and memory.
It May Alleviate Childhood ADHD Symptoms
In the same Dartmouth study, the researchers discovered that, thanks to the BDNF boost, exercise also helped to <a href="http://www.wired.com/playbook/2012/05/exercise-memory-and-adhd/">alleviate ADHD-like symptoms in juvenile rats</a>. Since BDNF is involved in the brain's development and growth of new cells, the effect was more profound on the younger rats, with their still-developing brains and more rapid cell turnover, compared to adult rats.
It Helps You Learn New Tricks
Even one exercise session can help you retain physical skills by enhancing what's commonly known as "muscle memory" or "motor memory," according to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433433/">new research published in <em>PlosOne</em>.</a> <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/how-exercise-can-help-you-master-new-skills/">As the New York <em>Times</em> reported</a>, men who were taught to follow a complicated pattern on a computer and subsequently exercised were better able to remember the pattern in subsequent days than the men who didn't exercise after the initial squiggle test.
It Supports Problem-Solving
In one study, mice that exercised by running not only generated new neurons, but those neurons lit up when the mice performed unfamiliar tasks like <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all">navigating a new environment</a>.
It Helps Alleviate Symptoms Of Depression
When you exercise, your pituitary gland releases endorphins to help mitigate the physical stress and pain you are experiencing. But those endorphins may play a more important and longer-lasting role: they could help alleviate symptoms of depression, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043">according to a Mayo Clinic report</a>.
It Reduces Stress
Although exercising raises our levels of cortisol -- the hormone that causes physical stress and is even associated with long-term memory impairment -- its overall effect is one of a stress reducer. That's because exercise increases the <a href="http://www.hormones.gr/57/article/article.html">body's threshold for cortisol</a>, making you more inured to stressors.
It Helps Delay Age-Associated Memory Loss
As we get older, an area of the brain called the hippocampus shrinks. That's why age is associated with memory loss across the board. However, profound memory loss -- such as in dementia and Alzheimer's disease patients -- is also contributed to by accelerated hippocampus shrinking. Luckily, the hippocampus is also an area of the brain that generate new neurons throughout a lifespan. And, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/02/21/133777018/aerobic-exercise-may-improve-memory-in-seniors">the research shows</a>, exercise promotes new neural growth in this area.