New findings suggest exercise may help maintain cognitive abilities of seniors
Physically fit seniors show fewer age-related changes in their brains, according to new research presented at Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. The findings underscore the importance of exercise for maintaining brain health throughout life.
"Our findings suggest that a high level of aerobic fitness may help diminish the changes in brain structure that occur as we get older," said senior author Gene Alexander, PhD, of the University of Arizona.
As people age, some regions of the brain — including those responsible for attention and memory functions — begin to lose volume or shrink. To see how physical fitness affects brain aging and age-associated declines in cognition, Alexander and colleagues scanned the brains of 58 men and 65 women (ages 50 to 89 years) and evaluated their performance walking on an inclined treadmill.
The more physically fit a participant was, the less age-related brain changes they showed. In particular, exercise endurance and breathing efficiency offered the best combination of fitness measures in predicting patterns of brain aging. Individuals with higher levels of aerobic fitness also outperformed their less physically fit counterparts on tests measuring memory, executive function, and information processing.
"Identifying the fitness indices that are the best predictors of brain aging and cognitive performance may help improve exercise-based interventions — ones that could delay or prevent changes in the brain that lead to age-related cognitive decline," Alexander said.