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Aerobic Exercise Improves Memory and Brain Power in Older Adults

Sunday, May 18, 2008 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: aerobics, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Want to boost your brain power? Try boosting your heart and lung power with aerobic fitness and you may also end up with a more "fit" mind as a bonus. That's the conclusion of a recent review of studies by researchers from the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The report, published in a recent issue of The Cochrane Library (a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research), concludes that just as aerobic physical exercise improves cardiovascular fitness and contributes to healthy aging of the body, it also helps boost cognitive fitness in older people.

In fact, getting your body moving can boost cognitive processing speed, motor function and even visual and auditory attention in healthy older people, according to lead review author Maaike Angevaren. That's especially good news for Baby Boomers because around age 50, occasional memory lapses or "senior moments" can become noticeable, along with a reduced ability to pay close attention to a task.

Angevaren and her colleagues studied 11 randomized controlled trials that took place in the U.S., France and Sweden involving 670 adults ages 55 and older. The studies examined how aerobic exercise impacts areas of cognition including cognitive processing speed, memory and attention. In these studies, research subjects exercised aerobically between two and seven days a week. The exercises all involved the continuous, rhythmic type of work-outs that improve respiratory endurance and stamina as they strengthen the heart and lungs.

After about three months, the study participants underwent both fitness and cognitive function testing. Eight of the 11 studies concluded participation in aerobic exercise programs increased participants' VO2 maximum by 14 percent. VO2 maximum is a term used to document the amount of oxygen a person can utilize per minute of work. It is often used as an evaluation of a person's cardiovascular efficiency.

The research subjects were compared to groups of non-exercisers or non-aerobic exercisers. No one was surprised that most groups comprised of those who worked out aerobically had more improvement of their physical fitness than those who did not exercise vigorously. But what was surprising was that levels of cognitive function also soared, especially motor function, cognitive speed and auditory and visual attention.

"Improvements in cognition as a result of improvements in cardiovascular fitness are being explained by improvements in cerebral blood flow, leading to increased brain metabolism which, in turn, stimulates the production of neurotransmitters and formation of new synapses," Angevaren said. She also explained that improved cardiovascular fitness could lead to a decline in cardiovascular disease which is well known to have a negative affect on cognition.

Another reason a fit lifestyle might help the brain: it can help lower blood pressure. Other research recently released by doctors at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, concludes "optimal control of blood pressure may be beneficial in attenuating the risk of cognitive decline as the population ages."

Studying data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), Dr. Thomas Olabode Obisesan and research team investigated whether abnormal blood pressure is independently associated with lower cognitive function in men and women who were between 60 and 74 years old when they entered the study. They found that normal blood pressure (less than 120/80 mm Hg) was clearly linked with the best cognitive performance in people aged 60 to 69.

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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