Exercise can change how crucial portions of our brain communicate as we age, improving aspects of thinking and remembering – according to a new study that observed aging brains and the effects of aerobic workouts.
About the study
The study, which involved older African-Americans conducted by Science Direct, found that unconnected portions of the brain’s memory center start interacting in complex and healthier new ways after regular exercise, thus sharpening memory function.
Exercise makes the brain healthy. The study found that sedentary, older adults who took aerobic dance classes twice a week showed improvements in brain areas that are critical for memory and thinking.
Regardless of our age exercise helps our brain function better
The idea that physical activity improves brain health has been well established in many research studies conducted over the years. And new studies and research continue to make these claims a proven way to enhance our brain health.
Experiments involving animals and people show exercise increases neurons in the hippocampus, which is essential for memory creation and storage, while also improving thinking skills.
In older people regular exercise no matter the variety helps slow the usual loss of brain volume
In older people regular exercise no matter the variety helps slow the usual loss of brain volume, which leads to prevention in age-related memory loss and possibly lower the risk of dementia as well.
Exercise has also shown to help far-flung parts of the brain talk among themselves.
What happens inside the brains of much older people once they began to work out?
In a recent study researchers in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory decided to see what happened inside the brains and minds of much older people if they began to work out.
The research was conducted by Mark Gluck, a professor of neuroscience at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.. Dr. Gluck and his colleagues were specifically interested in the participants medial temporal lobes -the portion of the brain that contains the hippocampus and is the core of our memory center.
The inner workings of the hippocampus often begin to decline with age leading to declines in thinking and memory. But Dr. Gluck suspected that exercise might change that outcome for the better.
How the study was conducted
Working with local churches and community centers, he and his colleagues recruited sedentary, older African-American men and women from the Newark area. The volunteers who were mostly in their 60s, visited Dr. Gluck’s lab for health and fitness checkups, along with cognitive testing. A few also agreed to have their brain activity scanned.
Some then started working out, while others opted to be a sedentary control group. All shared similar fitness and memory function at the start of the study.
The exercise group attended hourlong aerobic dance classes twice a week at a church or community center for 20 weeks.
Dr. Gluck and his research associate Neha Sinha invited 34 of those volunteers who had completed an earlier brain scan to return for another. Seventeen of them had been exercising in the meantime; the rest had not. These groups repeated the cognitive tests. Then the scientists started comparing the results, and quickly noticed subtle differences in how the exercisers’ brains operated.
Scans showed more-synchronized activity among the exercise group throughout their medial temporal lobes than among the sedentary group, and this activity was more dynamic.
“Portions of the exercisers’ lobes would light up together and then, within seconds, realign and light up with other sections of the lobe. Such synchronizing indicates a kind of youthful flexibility in the brain, as if the circuits were smoothly trading dance partners at a ball. The exercisers’ brains would flexibly rearrange their connections, in a way that the sedentary group’s brains could not.” Dr. Gluck
Exerciser’s thinking and memories improved
The exercisers performed better than before on a test of their ability to learn and retain information and apply it logically in new situations.
This kind of agile thinking involves the medial temporal lobe which Dr. Gluck noted tends to decline with age. But the older exercisers scored higher than at the start of the research.
On a personal note – proof is in the family – My Dad – 89 Years Old Sharp and Agile
I have to give a huge shout out to my Dad. He is 88 years old, sharp as ever and fit as ever. Folks – this man can dance with the same gusto as the young ones!
He walks everyday. He gets his minimum 30 minutes of vigorous walk in each day.
Uncle in great shape at 85
Our Uncle whom we call Masa who lives in Kenya is also in great shape both mentally and physically.
His secret? He walks every day – morning and evening.
Though this study involved older African-Americans, the results still show promise for all older adults no matter your race or ethnicity.
“It seems that neural flexibility gained by exercising a few times a week leads directly to memory flexibility, no matter who you are and what age you are.” Dr. Gluck