Exercise Hones Mental Strength as Well as Physical



A hard Zumba class, long treadmill run or other type of demanding workout may wipe participants out physically, but what about mentally? New research shows that getting regular physical exercise slows down aging in the brain and hones people’s mental strength as well as arms or abs. In other words, the benefits of busting a move flex the brain muscle too.

It has been long been proven that regular exercise helps keep the heart young. But, the new research shows that it keeps the brain young, too. The study, conducting over a 12-year period, found that regular exercise slows down the aging process in the brain. For older people, regular strenuous physical activity improves memory function and the ability to process information, shaving an estimated 10 years off from a mental capacity standpoint, according to the researchers’ write-up published in Neurology.

Conducted by researchers from Columbia University and the University of Miami, the study involved 876 older adults, with an average age of 71, who were actually participating in the Northern Manhattan Study focused on stroke risks. The diverse group was composed of 60 percent Hispanics and 20 percent blacks. Over half had more than a high school education. The participants were following closely for about more than 10 years. (There were originally 1,228 participants, but less than 900 were involved over 10 years later.)

The participants were queried about their physical activities for the two weeks prior to starting the study and then divided into two groups. The smaller one, which included about 10 percent of participants, were the high-activity group that tool part regularly in moderate- or high-intensity running or aerobics. The remainders were in a light or no exercise group.

After seven years, both groups were given a series of tests to ascertain physical and mental health. The tests also looked at cognitive and memory skills. Those same tests were administered about five years later. (As part of the broader study, there also received tests for vascular risks and MRI scans.)

The results showed a stark difference in brain functionality between the two groups. The study illustrated that those who did little or no regular physical workouts had a much higher rate of decline in their memory and processing abilities than those who engaged in regular level of moderate or higher-intensity fitness activities. The scientists reported that the large group aged about 10 years more mentally than those who exercised more.

The link between vascular health and the brain’s health is the key here. Exercise helps stimulate the flow of oxygen in blood vessels, including those that go to the brain. So, just like physical fitness is known to improve cardiovascular health and positively affecting one’s hypertension, cholesterol and other things, keeping fit keeps the blood and oxygen flowing to the brain making it more resilient as people age chronologically.

The study showing that exercise hones mental as well as physical strength complements a study published earlier this year by a Boston University research team. that research showed that the increased blood flow that exercise stimulates helps protect the ability of the brain to function properly.

Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss

Neurology: Leisure-time physical activity associates with cognitive decline
TIME: Exercise Slows Brain Aging By 10 Years
CDA News: Physical Exercise Is One Key Factor in Slowing the Brain’s Aging
Los Angeles Times: Intensive exercise may keep the aging mind sharp

Photo courtesy of eLearningCentralia

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