What Workout is Best for the Brain? The BrainFit Study

Science Update |  What Workout is Best for the Brain? The BrainFit Study

What: A report recently published in the journal Physiology and Behavior considered the immediate impact of two types of physical exercise as well as the combination of both on cognition. Researchers randomly assigned 36 overweight, inactive adult males ages 18-30 years old to one of three interventions: High-intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT), progressive resistance training (PRT), combined training (HIIT and PRT), or a control group. Participants were assessed immediately after reaching an energy expenditure of 400-500 kcal using a battery of cognitive tests assessing executive function. Results showed that the HIIT intervention alone and in combination with PRT significantly improved executive function performance for tasks such as attention and cognitive inhibition (how well we can diminish interference) over PRT alone.

Why This Matters: These findings suggest that even one-time workouts in those who are typically sedentary can boost cognitive performance, specifically in skills such as attention and focus. While the study was quite small, it is well-designed and is of interest as it compares directly different types of popular workouts. In addition, the mechanism behind why this activity would have a significant, immediate impact on cognition is unclear.

The Takeaway: Want to boost your brainpower for a big presentation or test? Get aerobic and pump some iron beforehand! The downside of doing so is minimal, and it may prime your brain to be more focused and improve your performance.

Quintero AP, Bonilla-Vargas KJ, Correa-Bautista JE et al. Acute effect of three different exercise training modalities on executive function in overweight inactive men: The BrainFit Study. Physiol Behav. 2018 Sep 21. pii:S0031-9384(18)30522-5. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.09.010. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 30248301.