Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Need an Exercise Partner? Look at the Benefits for Older Adults!

Smart idea: Exercise can help build brain power — at any age

The link between learning and exercise is now well established. As school recess and physical education classes are being cut back or eliminated, families need to make exercise an after-school priority. Studies show adults can also gain brain power through exercise.

Substantial research has been done on the effect of exercise on budding intellects. The Journal of School Health published a study in 1997 showing that intense physical activity programs had positive effects on academic achievement. Even when the activity reduced the amount of time kids had for academics, exercise was found to increase concentration, reduce disruptive behavior and improve test scores.

New research reveals that the connection between learning and exercise is not limited to children. In a study published in a recent issue of the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, researchers found that after a year of exercise, adult subjects showed enhanced cognitive skills.

In this study, adult subjects followed an exercise program of moderate walking and stretching or toning for 40 minutes three times a week for one year. Before the study, all of the participants had been sedentary, each one reporting having done fewer than two 30-minute sessions of physical activity in the previous six months. After just one year of activity, however, the subjects — who ranged in age from 59 to 80 — had improved connectivity of important circuits in their brain and had mitigated declines in their brain function that are typically associated with aging. Furthermore, they showed improved performance on cognitive tasks.

These findings, which prove the link between exercise and improved cognitive function, should not be surprising. A high percentage of your brain is dedicated to coordinating the actions of your muscles. The concept of " aerobics" was born when astronauts doing mental training in the 1960s showed slower response rates the longer the missions ran. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an Air Force physician, surmised that though the astronauts' tasks were almost entirely mental, their bodies' fatigue due to lack of fitness was dampening their brain function. To better the astronauts' brains, Cooper prescribed a program that required the astronauts to exercise large muscle groups in a rhythmic fashion — in a word, aerobics.

Since then, a veritable library of research has cataloged the correlation between exercise and cognitive function, including the Maastricht Aging Study, which recognized that among all age groups (from young folks to those 90 and older), those who were more active were faster in tests involving information processing.

Source: By Eric Heiden, Tribune Media Services, September 9, 2010

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