"These improvements, however, went down when the joggers stopped their training, which suggests that ongoing exercise is required to maintain the benefit," said study lead author Dr. Kisou Kubota of Nihon Fukushi University in Handa, Japan. The findings were presented in San Diego at a recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Recent studies have suggested that exercise benefits both brawn and brain. Researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, reported earlier this year that seniors who embarked on a four-month exercise programme showed significant improvement in memory and other mental skills, also known as cognitive function. Other studies have shown that regular workouts can help fight depression, as well.
In their study, Kubota's team had seven healthy young people initiate a jogging regimen consisting of running for 30 minutes, two to three times a week for at least 12 weeks.
Each of the runners also took a series of complex computer-based tests, to compare memory skills before and after the three-month jogging program.
After 12 weeks of jogging, scores on all of the tests "significantly increased" in the runners, as did their reaction times in completing the tests.
The researchers point out that the study participants were given no time to practise the various tests between each evaluation.
"These tests showed that joggers had a clear improvement in prefrontal function," Kubota said, adding that scores began to fall again if participants stopped their running routine.
Exactly how exercise might strengthen mental sharpness is unclear, but previous research suggests that maintaining a healthy flow of blood and oxygen protects the brain. The Japanese researchers note that oxygen intake rose along with joggers' test scores.
In a Society for Neuroscience statement, Kubota said the research may someday help doctors "find a way to use exercise and running to help aged people and those with Alzheimer's disease " improve their cognitive function. -Reuters