Exercise Improves Thinking Skills
Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but in young people as well, according to a study published in the January 30, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study also found that the positive effect of exercise on thinking skills may increase as people age.
The specific set of thinking skills that improved with exercise is called executive function. Executive function is a person’s ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals.
“As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline,” said study author Yaakov Stern, PhD, of Columbia University in New York, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer of their brain.”
“Since a difference of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to 20 years of age-related difference in performance on these tests, the people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60,” Stern said.
He added, “Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline.”
Researchers also found an increase in the thickness of the outer layer of the brain in the left frontal area in all those who exercised, suggesting that aerobic exercise contributes to brain fitness at all ages.
“Our research confirms that exercise can be beneficial to adults of any age,” said Stern.