Scientists from the University of Granada question in a study that exercising regularly has benefits at a cognitive level, as has usually been thought, or at least suggests that the claims about this supposed cause-effect relationship are not supported by the scientific evidence available up to now.
The researchers, from the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Research Center, reviewed 24 meta-analyses for further analysis of 109 randomized controlled studies, which are often used to determine causal relationships. which allowed us to cover 11,266 healthy participants of all ages.
The study, published this Monday in the scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour, has shown that the original, small and statistically significant positive effects of physical exercise on cognition disappeared at all ages and cognitive functions after taking into account the possible moderating effects (such as the baselines of the studies and the differences between the control groups, a fundamental aspect of intervention designs to control for methodological problems such as the placebo effect), reports the University of Granada.
The article also highlights that the scientific literature regarding the effects of exercise on cognitive functions has grown exponentially in recent years hardened by «exaggerated» messages«, without taking into account contradictory results and the emergence of critical voices.
According to this study, most of the meta-analyses show important methodological deficiencies, such as low statistical power, lack of overlap in the sources of evidence or publication bias.
Therefore, the scientists review, their results «however do not represent the real effect of the evidence accumulated over time.»
The authors stress that their results do not suggest that physical exercise may not have positive effects on cognitive functioning at allnor that it may be detrimental to cognition.
But if they emphasize the need for be «cautious» in establishing a causal relationship between exercise and cognition, since currently the causal evidence is not strong.
For examplethe World Health Organization currently recommends regular exercise as a means of maintaining a healthy cognitive state in childhood and in the elderly, a recommendation that, according to the study by the University of Granada, would not be supported by the scientific evidence available to date.
Despite these resultsthe researchers conclude that the benefits of physical exercise, especially with regard to physical health, they are sufficient in themselves to justify evidence-based public health policies to promote the practice of sport on a regular basis in people’s daily lives, without having to appeal to the supposed effects at the cognitive level.