Many studies find fitness equals better mental ability

By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com

A new study released today declares that older adults who take more steps than most by walking or jogging performed better on memory tasks. Really, how could this be news? It is just another way of looking at physical fitness and how it enhances memory and cognitive ability. But, this one does find a new twist.

As the editor of SeniorJournal.com for 16 years I have reported on dozens of studies that have come up with the same result – physical fitness, which can be obtained in many ways, helps people stay mentally fit as they age.

I’m not complaining but I am declaring this is an established reality – exercise equals better mental performance as people age.

This research started with the question, “Could staying physically active improve quality of life by delaying cognitive decline and prolonging an independent lifestyle?”

“Absolutely,” is the answer I could have provided before their study. It has been proven in dozens of studies – maybe hundreds – that primarily have varied only by the technique used to gain the physical fitness – running, walking, swimming, weight-lifting, dancing, hula hoop, etc.

The differences in this study is it looked at groups of both young and old adults. Which leads them to look at long-term versus short-term memory.

The report appears online in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

The study included 29 young adults (ages 18-31) and 31 older adults (ages 55-82) who wore a small device called an ActiGraph, which recorded information including how many steps each took, how vigorous the steps were and how much time it involved. These are used in many, many studies of physical exercise.

Participants also completed neuropsychological testing to assess their memory, planning and problem-solving abilities.

In addition to standardized neuropsychological tasks of executive function (planning and organization abilities) and long-term memory, participants engaged in a laboratory task in which they had to learn face-name associations.

The researchers found that older adults who took more steps per day had better memory performance.

And, what will appeal to many elderly, the association between the number of steps taken was strongest with a task that required recalling which name went with a person’s face – the same type of everyday task that older adults often have difficulty with.

In young adults, the number of steps taken was not associated with memory performance.

It is long-term memory that is improved by activity

This lead them to the conclusion that the effects of physical activity extend to long-term memory – the same type of memory that is negatively impacted by aging and neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

”Our findings that physical activity is positively associated with memory is appealing for a variety of reasons. Everyone knows that physical activity is a critical component to ward off obesity and cardiovascular-related disease. Knowing that a lack of physical activity may negatively impact one’s memory abilities will be an additional piece of information to motivate folks to stay more active,” explained corresponding author Scott Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and the Associate Director of the Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

This work was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rehabilitation Research & Development Service and Clinical Science Research & Development Service [MV]. Assistance with participant recruitment was provided by the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (P50-AG005134) and Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center (P30-AG13846).

 

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