- It is by now well established that exercise has positive effects on the brain, especially as we age.
- Less clear has been why physical activity affects the brain in the first place.
- Key events in the evolutionary history of humans may have forged the link between exercise and brain function.
- Cognitively challenging exercise may benefit the brain more than physical activity that makes fewer cognitive demands.
People often consider walking and running to be activities that the body is able to perform on autopilot. But research carried out over the past decade by us and others would indicate that this folk wisdom is wrong. Instead exercise seems to be as much a cognitive activity as a physical one. In fact, this link between physical activity and brain health may trace back millions of years to the origin of hallmark traits of humankind. If we can better understand why and how exercise engages the brain, perhaps we can leverage the relevant physiological pathways to design novel exercise routines that will boost people’s cognition as they age—work that we have begun to undertake.