Engaging in intensive exercise proves to make senior citizens more mentally adept, have better cognitive function and maintain their memory more intact than do their sedentary peers.
New research has found that over the five-year study, aging participants who were more physically active kept more of their cognitive processes intact than did couch potatoes.
Published in the journal Neurology, this is the most recent study to highlight the importance of aging healthy through moderate to intensive exercise. A good workout doesn’t just keep heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis in check or at bay, but also offers a coping mechanism for the aging brain.
For the study, scientists analyzed the cognitive benefits of physical activity in an ethnically diverse group of Manhattan residents averaging at the age of 71 at the start of the research period.
Most of the participants were followed for about five years; at the end, their cognitive performance was tested again and compared with their baseline scores.
Intensive exercisers – those engaging in physical activities several times a week – represented only 10 percent of the participants. Those who reported light or no physical activity were not doing much to get their heart rate up.
According to the study’s author, Clinton B. Wright from the University of Miami neurologist, participants needed to do a lot more than strolling to fit into the top 10 percent category.
Researchers only took into consideration the subjects who presented no cognitive impairment at the start of the study. The difference between the highly active and the couch potatoes was stark: after five years, the brains of intensive exercisers were “the equivalent of 10 years younger” than those who only exercised a little or not at all.
The team measured the “episodic memory” function, which deals with the subject’s ability to recall autobiographical information and past experiences.
According to the new study, vascular health also plays a significant role in connecting mental fitness to physical activity. The exercises we do are likely to influence the health of our blood vessels; in turn, they affect our mental acuity as we age.
However, Wright warned that the study’s design does not allow direct causality between intensive exercise and brain aging. But it remains true that a person who engages in frequent workouts is less likely to have high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes.
Virend Somers, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, said the new research as an observational study, could be proving something else: that “cognitively healthier people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as exercise, that in turn maintain their brain health.”
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