If you’ve noticed you’re not getting any younger, here’s something you can do to hang on to your youthful thinking — exercise.
Your physical fitness is reflected in your mental fitness, especially as we get older.
Researchers recently studied a group of older adult men. The scientists found that the men who were more fit performed better on tests of mental sharpness than men who were less fit. Researchers tested the men in areas such as working memory, reasoning, problem solving, selective attention and reaction time.
As we age, we use parts of our brain differently than when we’re younger.
Young adults use the left side of the prefrontal cortex to work on tasks involving short-term memory such as recalling past events, objects or people.
We use the right side of the prefrontal cortex for long-term memory and manipulation of memories.
The prefrontal cortex is at the front of the brain just behind your forehead. It’s involved in memory, intelligence, language and vision. (Yes, it does a lot of work.)
Since young adults use just one side, or hemisphere, of the brain for some jobs, reaction time for certain tasks is faster.
As we age, our brains spread those jobs between the left and right prefrontal cortex rather than being done by just one side.
This change in brain activity as we age is known as HAROLD. (That’s actually the term.) That stands for hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults. You can dazzle your friends at your next party with that information!
HAROLD is the process the brain goes through to compensate for reduced brain capacity and efficiency caused by structural and physiological decline as we age.
Researchers found that the older men with better aerobic fitness scored better on tests of reaction time and brain activity. The scientists learned that older fit men, like young adults, tended to use one side of the brain to accomplish the test activities, and the fit subjects had faster reaction times and performed better mentally.
The researchers theorized that the white matter in the brain that connects the sides is better maintained in the brains of fit people.
The study did not prove the differences in white matter or fitness changed how the men’s brains work. It did prove that fit men have different — let’s call it more youthful — brain activity patterns.
Proof of some of the brain theories will be a study for another day, along with determining if the same relationship between fitness and brain performance exists in women. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to go take a walk. It will be good for your brain… and the rest of your body.