Feb. 13, 2002 -- Almost everyone knows that
exercise improves your physical health, making muscles of the heart and
lungs stronger, even for those with serious lung disease. A new study
shows that moderately intense bursts of exercise can also give these
patients a real mental edge.
Researchers found people with chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) showed immediate improvement in
mental function after 20 minutes of riding a stationary bicycle.
COPD is an umbrella term used to refer to a
combination of two lung conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and
causes impaired airflow in the lungs. It's the fourth leading cause of
death in the United States and is commonly caused by smoking.
Although exercise was once considered taboo
for treating COPD, researchers say doctors now frequently recommend
exercise to their patients to help control the symptoms of the disease,
such as shortness of breath and frequent upper respiratory infections.
Exercise eases these symptoms by increasing
airflow in the lungs. But this study, which appears in the American
Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, shows exercise also
provides mental benefits.
"People with chronic lung disease may have
problems with fluid intelligence - the ability to take new material and
make sense of it," said study author Charles Emery, associate professor of
psychology at Ohio State University, in a news release. "Exercise seems to
help these individuals think more efficiently."
Researchers evaluated the effects of a
single session of moderately intense exercise on 29 adults with COPD and
29 healthy adults. Each participant rode a stationary bicycle for 20
minutes. Resistance on the bike was increased until the individual reached
his or her own peak exercise level (as determined by heart and breathing
After the exercise session, the COPD group
showed significant improvement in one measure of mental performance, known
as verbal fluency.
"This indicates that they were able to
process and retain information better than they could prior to
exercising," said Emery in a release. "This translates to better
performance on tasks like following directions, for example."
The healthy subjects did not experience a
similar mental boost - most likely because they were already in better
shape and had healthier lungs to begin with, according to researchers.
The study also looked at whether simply
thinking and learning about exercise by watching a video on the benefits
of exercise and cholesterol reduction would have a similar effect on the
participants, but no cognitive improvement was found in either group. The
authors say that means the physical components of exercise - such as
increased breathing and blood flow -- may be responsible for the benefits
to the brain.