Doing endurance sports is healthy - that's clear. People who regularly cycle, hike or jog are healthier than those who don't and have better overall fitness. But a study from the U.S. has found out how endurance sports can also affect mental performance. The study shows that regular endurance exercise can slow down and, in some cases, prevent the decline in mental abilities that occurs after the age of 30. 

Researchers at Columbia University in New York conducted the study with 132 participants between the ages of 20 and 65 who had done little exercise before enrolling in the study and were considered rather unsporty. As part of the study, they had to exercise four times a week over a period of six months. A distinction was made in the type of sports they practiced: either endurance sports (e.g. treadmill, cross-trainer or bicycle) or strength training / stretching exercises.

Improvement of brain performance in endurance athletes

After six months, the performance of various brain activities had improved significantly in the group of participants doing endurance sports, including the follwing:

  • Language
  • Processing speed
  • Attention
  • Memory

Among other things, this enabled them to plan better, achieve set goals and set priorities. In addition, the researchers were able to detect an increase in gray matter in the brain, which controls perceptual processes as well as motor performance. The older the test subjects were, the greater the positive effects.

Strength training and stretching also increased the subjects' mental fitness - but to a much lesser extent than endurance sports. 


What does this mean for your personal sports routine? If you limit your sports activities to weight training in the gym, and generally avoid doing endurance sports, you will miss out on certain positive effects on your mental performance. So why not go for a run once a week or take the bike on your daily commute? Your mental fitness will thank you in the long run.