If you feel like you’re over the hill, at least focus on the positives. According to new science, older people experience an improved facility for learning when they’re physically fit. So if your body is in good shape, chances are your mind is, as well.
A new study has demonstrated that older people who have good cardiovascular health, as quantified by cardiorespiratory (CRF) tests, fared better with memory tests than people who had low CRF. Additionally, the fitter the subjects were, the more brain activity they displayed while learning.
They study was conducted on groups of adults, segregated by age. Data collected from young people (18-31) in good health were compared to data collected on older people (55-74). The participants presented with a diverse range of fitness levels.
While they walked and jogged on treadmills, the research measured their oxygen and CO2 output. They also took MRIs while they were prompted to learn and then recall the names of strangers whose photos they were shown.
The older group had a harder time learning and recalling the right names for the faces. Researchers observed decreased activity in some regions of the brain and increased activity in others. And brain activity level was correlated with fitness level.
The older group demonstrated improved brain function in areas of the brain typically associated with age-related memory conditions.
CRF is clearly more important than just maintaining a good physique. Scott Hayes of Boston University School of Medicine explains, “Importantly, CRF is a modifiable health factor that can be improved through regular engagement in moderate to vigorous sustained physical activity such as walking, jogging, swimming, or dancing. Therefore, 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.”
Unfortunately, maintaining a cardiovascular exercise routine is not, in itself, adequate preventative medicine to eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But there’s a good chance that it will slow the mental decline. Longer studies, tracking activity levels in older people as they correspond to memory and brain function over a course of years, would likely provide more valuable insights into how CRF relates to memory disease.
But for now, if you needed extra motivation to put on your jogging shoes, warding off Alzheimer’s is a good place to start. And if you just can’t seem to remember people’s names, get sprinting.