Best type of exercise for brain health

Best type of exercise for brain health


There have been numerous studies done on the effectiveness of exercise to increase the health of one’s brain, this is nothing new and it fairly well established in the literature. However, up until now the only way they could measure this was on animals (usually mice) in a lab setting where they run on treadmills. Although that was informative at the time, it begs the question WHAT TYPE of exercise can deliver the greatest brain benefits?

In humans we know that high intensity interval training (HIIT) and weight lifting are superior to running for building muscle mass. But what about brain health? In an exciting new study out of Finland that was recently published in The Journal of Physiology, researchers designed a way to test this question using rats. The setup was quite interesting.

In the first group the researchers had the rats run at a slow to moderate pace on a wheel. In the second group they tied weight to the tails of the rats and had them scale walls (weight training group). The third group was forced to run at high intensity for short amounts of time. Lastly, the control group were tasked with doing whatever rats normally do.

After only seven weeks they discovered that although all three groups showed signs of neuronal growth compared to the control group, one group showed significantly more growth than any of the others. Which one? The first group that ran at a slow to moderate pace on the wheel significantly beat out the other two groups. They also found that the further the rats ran, the more neuronal growth that was present within the hippocampus.

In my opinion the take away message is that unless you’re a pro athlete training for a specific sport, to get the most health benefits overall diversity seems to be key. Although this study only measures growth within the hippocampus there’s a good chance that HIIT or weight training have other unforeseen brain benefits, aside from the well established ones of increasing muscle growth and blood vessel health.

Written by Dr. Scoppa

Dr. Scoppa practices at northwest structural medicine and maintains a diverse, holistic practice in the Seattle area. Follow us on Facebook for more interesting health tidbits and research briefings.



Posted in Nutrition/Exercise, Sports Medicine and tagged , , .