Just a bit of exercise can help keep your brain in shape as you age, according to the latest study that shows how physical activity can benefit older minds.
“This finding isn’t saying, ‘If you’re older, you need to go out there and start running marathons,'” said lead author Marissa Gogniat, a recent doctoral graduate in psychology from the University of Georgia.
“This is saying if you get more steps, if you’re moving around your environment a little bit more, that can be helpful to your brain health and keep you more independent as you age,” Gogniat said in a university news release.
The researchers measured the fitness and physical activity of 51 older adults. Their thinking skills were measured using tests on cognitive functioning, and their brain functioning was assessed via MRIs.
According to the study authors, this is the first study to examine how physical activity interacts with brain networks to affect how the brain functions.
These brain networks are in constant communication, but some are active at different times. One may be active when a person is at rest, but turn off when a person starts moving, while another network switches on, the researchers explained.
If this doesn’t occur, it’s a sign that the brain isn’t functioning as well as it should. This may affect the ability to perform basic daily functions, such as remembering important information or having self-control.
The study found that brain network functioning improves with physical activity.
“We’ve always been told it’s good to exercise, but I think this is some evidence that exercise can actually change your brain,” Gogniat said. “And that impacts the way you’re able to function in your daily life.”
The findings are “exciting because it gives us some evidence that when people whose brain networks aren’t functioning optimally engage in physical activity, we see improvement in their executive function and their independence,” Gogniat said.
“We’re not saying you need to radically change your life. Maybe just take the stairs on the way to work,” she added. “Stand up and walk around a little bit more. That’s where you get the most bang for your buck, not crazy, high-intensity exercise.”
The study results recently appeared in Sport Sciences for Health.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging offers fun ways for older adults to stay active.
SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, March 8, 2022