What does dementia have to do with The Active Times?
When thinking about ways to fight the decline in cognitive ability that often comes with age, exercise might not seem like the top of the list. Instead you might think of studies that say doing crosswords and Sudoku can help stave off brain deterioration, even in Alzheimer’s patients; or that maintaining an active social life will also keep your brain active in old age; or the mixed but promising evidence for brain food like omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants like vitamin C and E. (See this infographic for more info on dietary supplements and health.)
The reason we’re bringing up dementia is simple: one of the best, most proven ways to reduce that decline—and even increase brain volume—is aerobic exercise.
We’ve written before about this phenomenon; and, indeed, the connection between regular exercise and brain health is well enough established that recent research is focused more on how exactly that connection works.
Co-author of the exercise-brain gain study, neuroscientist Art Kramer, recently spoke to NPR about his research, giving additional insight into just how effective exercise is at promoting brain health. From NPR’s story:
Kramer did a study in which he scanned the brains of 120 older adults, half of whom started a program of moderate aerobic exercise—just 45 minutes, three days a week, mostly walking. After a year, the MRI scans showed that for the aerobic group, the volume of their brains actually increased.
What's more, individuals in the control group lost about 1.5 percent of their brain volume, adding up to a 3.5 percent difference between individuals who took part in aerobic exercise and those who did not. Further tests showed that increased brain volume translated into better memory.
In short, not only can frequent sweat sessions help keep your aging brain fat and healthy, but not exercising means your brain is more inclined to shrink.
A recent review of the literature by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that exercise boosts a number of executive brain functions in older adults, among which are task switching, selective attention and working memory capacity. Furthermore, the review found similar benefits to brain function across age groups, meaning everyone, from children to the elderly, can boost their mental acuity with regular exercise.
And that’s good news for all Active Times readers.