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Physical fitness may keep your mind sharp

Posted: May 06, 2019

Physical fitness may keep your mind sharp

By: Kathy Floyd, Bartow County Extension coordinator

From: The Herald Tribune


    If you are slipping a little on your new years resolution to exercise, here’s a reason to get back on track. Recent research shows that physical activity not only keeps your body in shape, but it also may help your thinking ability as you get older.

    A number of studies have shown that cardiovascular fitness training can significantly improve learning, memory, and attention. Since most studies were previously conducted in animals, researchers set out to determine if this also occurs with humans. Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted two studies to assess the effect of physical fitness on mental function.

    In the first study, the fitness level was assessed in 41 adults aged 58-78. Brain activity was measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The adults who were more fit had faster reaction times, indicating better concentration. They also received more blood flow to various parts of the brain.

    In a second study, older adults were were divided into two groups. One group began a walking program that increased over a three month period to 45 minutes 3 times a week. The other group did only toning and stretching. After six months , the walking group showed significant improvement in test scores that measured decision making while performing specific task. The task were similar to diving in which the person had to concentrate while ignoring other distracting visual information. The group that did only stretching had lower brain activity and did not show significant improvement in performance on test at the end of 6 months.

    Declining mental function is a concern for many older adults. This study highlights the importance of staying physically active as we get older. Even moderate cardiovascular activity of the sort that is within reach of most healthy older adults may help to extend independent living.