Aerobics and brain power

Print edition : January 11, 2013

Elderly people working out in Tokyo.-YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP

NOT only the body but the mind too benefits from regular exercise and remaining physically active, especially as we age. The evidence for this is published in a new review by Hayley Guiney and Liana Machado from the University of Otago, New Zealand, which focusses on the importance of physical activity in keeping and potentially improving cognitive function throughout life. Their review is published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

A certain amount of mental deterioration is expected with advancing age. However, this may not necessarily have to be the case as particular aspects of cognitive function, such as task switching, selective attention and working memory, appear to benefit from aerobic exercise. Studies in older adults consistently found that fitter individuals scored better in mental tests than their unfit peers. In addition, intervention studies found scores in mental tests improved in participants who were assigned to an aerobic exercise regimen compared with those assigned to stretch and tone classes.

Interestingly, these results were not replicated in children or young adults. The one area where physical fitness or regular exercise was found to have an effect on cognitive function in these age groups was for memory tasks. Both the updating of working memory and the volume of information that could be held was better in fitter individuals or those put on an aerobic exercise regime.

The authors comment that despite physical fitness not affecting all areas of cognitive function in younger people, evidence is mounting that just because they are in their prime developmentally does not mean that they cannot benefit from regular exercise. In older generations, the evidence for improvement in cognitive function is significantly high.

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