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Just One Exercise Session Can Have Many Health Benefits

06/14/2017 09:31 EDT | Updated 06/20/2017 19:55 EDT

A new review of research has listed the wide variety of health benefits that come with just one single workout, also known as acute exercise.

Carried out by a team from New York University, the researchers looked at both animal and human studies to understand better how just one single workout can have an immediate effect on the brain, which will help further knowledge into the positive health effects of exercise over time and how it may cause long-lasting changes in the brain.

There is already a huge amount of interest and research into the health benefits of exercise and its effect on various brain functions, including mood, memory, attention, motor/reaction times, and even creativity.

woman exercising

"Exercise interventions are currently being used to help address everything from cognitive impairments in normal aging, minimal cognitive impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer's disease to motor deficits in Parkinson's disease and mood states in depression," commented Wendy A. Suzuki, principal investigator of the new study. "Our review highlights the neural mechanisms and pathways by which exercise might produce these clinically relevant effects."

The researchers reviewed a range of brain imaging and electrophysiological studies, including electroencephalography (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

They also looked at neurochemical studies, neurotransmitter studies which looked at exercise on the effect of dopamine, serotonin, and neuromodulator studies such as endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids.

woman exercising

The team made three main observations from the review:

  1. They found that the most consistent behavioural effects of acute exercise are improved executive function — mental process which help achieve goals — enhanced mood, and decreased stress levels.
  2. They found that neurophysiological and neurochemical changes after acute exercise show that a wide variety of brain areas and brain systems are activated by a workout.
  3. The research revealed that one of the most dramatic effects seen after acute exercise is the change in neurochemical levels including neurotransmitters, metabolites, growth factors, and neuromodulators, but the team noted that this area in particular requires more investigation as this was mainly seen in rodent studies.

The researchers noted that a better understanding of acute exercise and exercise's long-term effects could lead to physical activity potentially being used as a therapeutic tool to help delay, prevent, or treat cognitive decline in aging individuals, boost mood, improve attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, improve depression, and improve resistance to stress.

The results were published in Brain Plasticity.