From the Lab to the Gym: Translating Scientific Discoveries About Exercise and Cognition into Real-World Applications

Matthieu Boisgontier, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, and past Banting Discovery Award recipient, led a new study looking at the link between exercise and memory. His study analyzed data for almost 350,000 people to show that regular exercise leads to much sharper thinking. The research used a novel and complex type of statistical analysis called Mendelian randomization, which uses genetic variations to sort people based on their likelihood of being physically active.

From two enormous databases of health information, Boisgontier and his colleagues pulled genetic data for almost 350,000 people of all ages, along with objective measurements of physical activity for about 91,000 of them and cognitive scores for almost 258,000. By cross-checking the cognitive scores of people who have or lack the exercise-promoting snippets against those of people with the gene variants related to cognition, they were able to discern the extent to which exercise contributes to thinking skills.

The study found that people with a genetic predisposition to exercise typically did exercise and scored better on tests of thinking, indicating that the interplay of exercise and thinking was strong enough to indicate causation. This means that in this big study, the right exercise resulted in sharper minds.

According to Boisgontier, the study’s findings reinforce the idea that “absolutely, exercise is one of the best things you can do” for your brain. The study’s use of Mendelian randomization is significant because it goes beyond traditional observational research to firmly establish that exercise does improve brain skills.

Overall, Boisgontier’s study provides strong evidence that regular exercise can improve cognitive function and mental acuity, making a compelling case for the importance of exercise in maintaining brain health.

The study was featured in both The Washington Post and The Globe and Mail.

Read the full article here.