Regular exercise ensures a stronger, sharper brain — especially for older adults

SAN DIEGO — Exercise isn’t just paramount for a healthy body. It’s key to a sharper mind too. A recent study from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine shows that exercise leads to improvements in cognitive tasks involving executive function.

“We don’t know yet if there’s a cumulative, long-term effect to these small daily fluctuations in cognition,” says lead author Zvinka Zlatar, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the university, in a statement.. “That’s something we plan to study next – to see if performing physical activity at different intensities over time, in unsupervised settings, can produce long-term improvements in brain health and sustained behavior change.”

The study recruited 90 people between the ages of 50 and 74 to wear accelerometers while working out and complete several cognitive tests from home. Findings show a direct correlation between exercise and cognition. On days people exercised there was a boost in cognition. But on the days where people did not exercise, participants’ cognitive performance decreased.

The correlation between exercise and cognitive performance remained even when the researchers adjusted for factors such as HIV status, age, gender, education, and race/ethnicity. The correlation held for people who rely on others to perform daily tasks such as cleaning the house or paying the bills.

“For them, physical activity may have a greater benefit on daily, real-world cognitive performance,” explains senior author Raeanne Moore, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the school.

Dr. Moore hypothesizes that people who are functionally independent adults likely take part in more cognitively stimulating and social activities, making exercise less impactful for cognition.

The research study is recently published in the journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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