Mental Abilities in Older People
Retained and Even Improved by Aerobic Exercise
Task switching, selective
attention, working memory and more benefit from aerobic exercise
Dec. 13, 2012 – New research has
found that older people can retain and even improve certain mental
abilities through aerobic exercise, including mental tasks associated
with driving. Particular aspects of cognitive function such as task
switching, selective attention and working memory among others, all
appear to benefit from aerobic exercise.
Studies in older adults reviewed by
the researchers consistently found that fitter individuals scored better
in mental tests than their unfit peers. In addition, intervention
studies found scores in mental tests improved in participants who were
assigned to an aerobic exercise regimen compared to those assigned to
stretch and tone classes.
The physical benefits of regular
exercise and remaining physically active, especially as people age, are
well documented. This new study, however, says it is not only the body
which benefits from exercise, but the mind too.
The evidence for this is published
in a new review by Hayley Guiney and Liana Machado from the University
of Otago, New Zealand, which focuses on the importance of physical
activity in keeping and potentially improving cognitive function
throughout life. It is published online in the Springer publication Psychonomic
Bulletin & Review.
Interestingly, these results were
not replicated in children or young adults. The one area where physical
fitness or regular exercise was found to have an effect on cognitive
function in these age groups was for memory tasks.
Both the updating of working memory
and the volume of information which could be held was better in fitter
individuals or those put on an aerobic exercise regime.
comment that despite physical fitness not affecting all areas of
cognitive function in younger people, evidence is mounting that just
because they are in their prime developmentally does not mean that they
cannot benefit from regular exercise.
In older generations, the evidence
for improvement in cognitive function is insurmountable. The types of
tests of cognitive function reviewed here are important in showing that
exercise may attenuate age-related decline for specific tasks. For
example, it has been found to positively affect mental tasks relating to
activities such as driving, an activity where age is often seen as a
The authors conclude that
engagement in exercise can provide a simple means for people to optimize
their cognitive function.
They add that more research into the effects
of exercise on young adults and children is required. However, they say
that “the indications reported thus far - that regular exercise can
benefit brains even when they are in their prime developmentally -
warrant more rigorous investigation, particularly in the context of
society becoming increasingly sedentary.”
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