Exercise Helps Slow Brain Aging
By Merritt McKinney
NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) - Being physically fit may be good for the aging brain, researchers report.
In a new study of older adults,
higher levels of physical fitness were associated with improved mental abilities.
The results highlight the importance
of staying in shape, according to one of the study authors.
"Fitness training can enhance brain and mental function,"
Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Reuters Health.
moderate physical activity may keep the brain in tip-top shape, according to Kramer.
"By increased fitness we are not
talking about going from a sedentary lifestyle to running a marathon but instead to walking a couple of miles a few times
a week," he said.
"Older adults can maintain and indeed enhance cognitive and brain function with modest amounts of
aerobic exercise," Kramer said.
Several animal studies have shown that aerobic training has a positive effect on the
brain. It improves blood flow in the brain, encourages the formation of new neurons and increases the number of connections
called synapses that form between neurons.
Whether physical fitness has the same effect in people, however, has been
Now, Kramer and his colleagues have found
that being in shape does seem to benefit the brain in people. A report on the findings is being published in the early online
edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Kramer and his colleagues performed two sets
of experiments involving older adults. In the first study, 41 people who had no signs of dementia underwent an exercise test
to evaluate their physical fitness. They also measured brain activity while participants performed a task that required them
to pay close attention.
Older adults who had a high level of physical fitness performed
better on the activity. What's more, people who were in better shape demonstrated much more activity in parts of the brain
that are believed to be involved in attention.
In the second study, participants were randomly assigned to one of two
exercise groups. One group participated in stretching and toning activities several days a week, while the other group focused
on aerobic activity, such as walking.
At the end of the 6-month program, older adults in the aerobic group improved
their cardiovascular health. This improvement in heart health corresponded with a significant improvement on the attention
activity. In addition, they experienced an increase in brain activity in areas related to attention.
In contrast, there
were no significant changes in people in the stretching and toning group.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences Early Edition, February 16, 2004.
Last Updated: 2004-02-16 17:00:15 -0400 (Reuters Health)