Regular aerobic exercise can not only stave off the decline in brain function that often comes with age, it can also help turn back the clock on brain aging, two experts in the field report, based on a critical review of published studies.
Age-related deterioration in the all-important white and gray matter in the brain makes a number of high-level “executive function” tasks — such as planning, scheduling, working memory and multi-tasking much more difficult, Drs. Arthur F. Kramer and Kirk I. Erickson explain in the latest issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Yet a substantial body of research shows that these are the very processes that are most responsive to physical exercise, note the authors from the University of Illinois Beckman Institute, Urbana.
In people with or those without signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, regular moderate physical activity, enough to make a person breathless, has been shown to boost not only the speed and sharpness of thought but also the actual volume of brain tissue and the way in which the brain functions, Kramer and Erickson note.
For example, in a 6-month study Kramer and colleagues conducted, adults ages 60 to 75 who walked briskly for 45 minutes a day three days a week not only improved their aerobic fitness but also their mental fitness — particularly their ability to perform executive function tasks – compared with a control group who engaged only in non-aerobic stretching and toning exercises.