Researchers from the Center for Neural Science at New York University reviewed various literature discussing the effects of one exercise session, commonly called acute exercise, on both human and animal models. Typically, acute exercise only lasts up to 30 minutes but its observed effects on mental health last for more than two hours afterward. According to the study, a single session of aerobic exercise affects the prefrontal cortex, leading to improved cognition, attention, memory, language, decision-making, and problem-solving.
The researchers also determined that acute exercise significantly improves mood for up to a day after the session. Potential mood improvements include reduced tension, anger, and confusion. Aside from this, reviewed literature also showed that a single exercise session relieves symptoms of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. These effects of acute exercise can be attributed to the suppressed sympathetic nervous system response to stress.
Mental health benefits associated with acute exercise can also be attributed to increased blood flow to the brain as well as an increase in the number of brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, produced. Some of the neurotransmitters that increase after a single bout of exercise are dopamine and serotonin, which are considered as "feel good" neurotransmitters. These chemicals are important for movement, impulse control, and mood. Aside from these, acute exercise also leads to an increase in endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids, which are important for modulating pain response.
Although this study focused on benefits that can be acquired from a single exercise session, the researchers also evaluated the accumulated effects of acute exercise. They discovered that over time, the effects of these sessions will build up and induce long-term changes in the brain, inhibiting age-related cognitive decline and dementia, as well as ADHD. This was based on a study showing significant improvements in cognition in patients suffering from cognitive impairment after they followed a twice-weekly weightlifting regimen for six months.
Overall, the researchers proved that acute exercise has significant effects on brain health, which can accumulate over time to prevent neurodegenerative disorders. (Related: Exercise CAN save your life, especially when it comes to brain health.)
Here is a list of some exercises that you can do to improve brain function and prevent neurodegenerative disorders:
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