Scientists at the University of Granada question in a study that regular exercise brings benefits at a cognitive levelas is generally thought, or at least suggested, claims about this supposed cause and effect relationship are not supported by the scientific evidence available to date.
The researchers, belonging to the Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center, reviewed 24 meta-analyses and then focused on 109 controlled studies by randomization, which are usually used to determine causal relationships, which made it possible to cover 11,266 healthy participants of all ages.
The study, published this Monday in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavior, demonstrated that the original small and statistically significant positive effects of physical exercise on cognition disappeared across all ages and cognitive functions after accounting for potential moderating effects (such as study baselines and differences between control groups, a critical aspect of intervention designs to control for methodological issues such as the placebo effect), reports the University of Granada .
The article also highlights that the scientific literature on the effects of exercise on cognitive functions has grown exponentially in recent years based on “exaggerated” messages, without taking into account conflicting findings and the emergence of critical voices.
According to this study, most meta-analyses show main methodological shortcomingssuch as low statistical power, lack of overlap in evidence sources or publication bias.
Therefore, scientists report, their results “do not necessarily represent the actual effect evidence accumulated over time.
The authors emphasize that their findings do not suggest that physical exercise might not have positive effects on cognitive functioning. nor can it be harmful for cognition.
But yes emphasize the need for “caution” when establishing a causal relationship between exercise and cognition, as the causal evidence is currently not strong.
For example, the World Health Organization currently recommends regular exercise as a means of maintaining a healthy cognitive state in childhood and old age, a recommendation that, according to the study by the University of Granada, would not be supported by the scientific evidence available so far.
Despite these results, the researchers conclude that the benefits of physical exercise, especially with regard to physical health, are sufficient on their own justify evidence-based public health policies to promote the regular practice of sport in people’s daily lives, without having to appeal to the supposed effects at the cognitive level.