Physical Fitness May Keep Your Mind Sharp, Too

Fit older adults did well on cognitive tests in a new study.
exercise

Running photo via istock.com/bluecinema

There are so many reasons to exercise, it’s hard to keep track of them all. It helps you live longer. It cuts your risk of getting cancer. It makes you happier. And, says a new study from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), it may keep your mind sharp, too.

According to the study, older adults who performed well on fitness tests also did well on cognitive and memory tests, illustrating the diverse benefits that come from physical activity.

BUSM tested the cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) of adults between the ages of 18 to 31 and 55 to 74 as they walked or jogged on a treadmill. Participants also underwent MRI brain scans as they learned and committed to memory unfamiliar names and faces.

In general, the older adults had more difficulty with memory than the younger group. But within the older age group, fit individuals had an easier time remembering names, and exhibited more brain activity in regions associated with age-related decline. Adults with high CRF scores also showed more brain activation in certain areas. Each of these results suggests that exercise may preserve the brain as well as the body.

“Starting an exercise program, regardless of one’s age, can not only contribute to the more obvious physical health factors, but may also contribute to memory performance and brain function,” corresponding author Scott Hayes said in a statement.

The researchers emphasize in the study, which was published in the journal Cortex, that physical activity, while apparently good for the brain, cannot totally prevent or reverse dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cognitive decline. Still, with a host of benefits linked to exercise, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com