To Protect Aging Brains, Exercise May Be the Answer

Recent study explores the connection between fitness and brain function


Just as aging adults can take steps to protect their bodies, so too can they take action to protect their minds. At least that’s what a growing body of research suggests and a recently published study adds that exercise may be one of the very best strategies in the fight against cognitive decline.

The study, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, examines the relationship between fitness and an aging brain a bit differently than most other studies.

“We know that as people age, executive function declines, so we found that with higher cardiorespiratory fitness, you can enhance executive function performance behaviorally as well as executive function-related brain activation,” said Chelsea Wong, a M.D./Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois and first author on the paper.

The research team at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology studied fitness data and brain scans from 128 men and women, ages 59 to 80. They found a relationship between higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and higher executive function in the brain.

“This research adds to our growing understanding of the relationship among physical activity and cognitive and brain function—and suggests that we can improve our brain health by changing our lifestyle even as we age,” said Art Kramer, Beckman Institute director and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Illinois.

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