A recent study suggests that cognitive brain training helps improve executive function and aerobic activity helps improve memory.

The study, from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and published recently in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, compared cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular reactivity data obtained via MRI among 36 sedentary adults ages 56 to 75.

The participants were randomized into either a cognitive training or a physical training group, and trained 3 hours per week for 12 weeks. Neurocognitive, physiological, and MRI data from the participants were taken before, during, and after training.

The cognitive group received Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), a type of brain training developed at the Center for BrainHealth that focuses on three executive functions: strategic attention (prioritizing brain resources); integrative reasoning (synthesizing information at a deeper level); and innovation (encouraging fluid thinking, diverse perspective-taking, and problem solving).

The physical training group completed three, 60-minute sessions per week that included five minutes of warmup and cool down with 50 minutes of either walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike while maintaining 50% to 75% of maximum heart rate, explains a media release from the Center for BrainHealth.

According to the researchers, there were global cerebral blood flow gains among the cognitive training group, and they attribute this to the participants’ concerted mental effort during the reasoning training.

There were no significant global blood flow gains among the aerobic exercise group. However, per the release, the participants with improved memory performance showed higher cerebral blood flow in the bilateral hippocampi, an area underlying memory function and particularly vulnerable to aging and dementia.

“Our research has shown that all brain training protocols do not return equal benefits. When targeting the brain functions that give us a mental edge in daily life, strategy-based programs prevail,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and the study’s lead author, in the release.

“This study highlights the potential to accelerate brain health in healthy adults by adopting lifestyle habits that exercise the mind and body,” adds Chapman, a Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor.

“Most people tell me that they want a better memory and notice memory changes as they get older,” said Mark D’Esposito, MD, study co-author and professor of neuroscience and psychology, and director of the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, in the release.

“While memory is important, executive functions such as decision-making and the ability to synthesize information are equally, if not more so, but we often take them for granted. The takeaway: Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways,” he concludes.

[Source(s): Center for BrainHealth, Science Daily]