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Browsing by Author "Pajunen, Sara"

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  • Pajunen, Sara (2016)
    Physical activity has a positive impact not only on physical and mental health but also on cognitive functions. It seems that physical activity improves performance in a variety of cognitive tests and slows down the natural cognitive decline associated with aging. During adolescence the plasticity of the brain is greater and parts of the brain that are essential for cognitive functions develop significantly. At the same time there is some evidence that globally increasing physical inactivity and obesity might influence negatively on health of the brain and further on cognitive functions. From this point of view physical activity may have an underestimated role supporting cognitive development in youth. Physical activity has a positive effect on performance in a variety of cognitive tests in adolescence. Physically active adolescents outperform physically inactive controls in verbal and numerical abilities, different reasoning ability tests and especially in tests that measure executive functions and attention. Physical exercise has a positive effect also on emotional well-being, behaviour and academic achievement. Based on the articles of this thesis regular organized physical exercise that is vigorous and includes a cognitive component has the strongest impact on cognitive performance. In some studies the association between physical activity and cognitive and academic performance was stronger in girls than boys. This finding could be explained by the fact that physical exercise decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression and that girls have more of these symptoms than boys. The underlying mechanisms of the association include learning and developmental mechanisms and physiological mechanisms that include functional and structural features of the brain. Physical exercise increases cerebral blood flow and oxygen intake in the brain and upregulates multiple neurotrophic factors that are essential for new neurons. Regular physical exercise possibly leads to more efficient neuronal networks and permanent cortical changes in adolescent’s brain. Scarce literature and various study designs might explain some of the inconsistency in the results. In the future more research is needed about what kind of physical exercise by type, intensity and duration is the most effective on cognitive development in adolescence. Increasing amount of literature supports the idea that physical activity is a lifestyle factor that has a holistic impact on health and well-being throughout the lifespan.