Brain and Behavior, Mental Health

The Importance of Exercise for Young Adults

We all know and understand the overall health benefits of exercise at any age. Current research has revealed the unique importance of exercise for young adults, and how it can impact lifestyle, brain function, and future quality of life. Many young adults (age 18-35) are encountering life changes such as career development, marriage, and parenthood – and aspects of self-care such as exercise tend to take a back seat.

However, implementing even a half-hour of aerobic exercise three times per week can produce significant immediate benefits and benefits that endure for years. Researchers from the University of Texas in Austin worked with 2680 young adults who were not currently exercising and had them participate three times per week in a half-hour of aerobic exercise. Despite instructions not to change dietary habits, the participants gradually made healthier eating choices throughout the 15-week research protocol. Young adulthood is a critical time for establishing healthy lifestyle habits, and the implementation of consistent aerobic exercise can contribute to healthier habits in other areas as well.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published an encouraging study evaluating the relationship between exercise and depression. Researchers wanted to investigate whether aerobic exercise could cause reduction in depressive symptoms and incidence. JAMA Psychiatry reported these promising results: “Increasing evidence shows that physical activity is associated with reduced risk for depression, pointing to a potential modifiable target for prevention. Findings strengthen empirical support for physical activity as an effective prevention strategy for depression.”

Additionally, The American Academy of Neurology recently published a randomized controlled trial with 132 young adults who were assigned to a six-month, four days per week program of either muscle toning/stretching or aerobic exercise. Results showed exciting positive outcomes for the aerobic-exercise group: increased cortical thickness and significantly improved executive function, progressively with aging. In other words, exercise can improve the cognitive process of executive function immediately, and over time.


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