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Physical Fitness Preserves Thinking & Memory

Posted Dec 18 2013 10:08pm

Previous studies have linked a lack of exercise with declines in thinking and memory with aging.  Carrington R. Wendell, from the National Institute on Aging (Maryland, USA), and colleagues studied 1,400 men and women, ages 19 to 94 years, who were asked to walk, jog or run on a treadmill until they were out of breath. A machine measured the amount of oxygen participants breathed in and carbon dioxide breathed out, to yield each subject’s VO2 max – the maximal amount of oxygen used by the lungs during one minute of strenuous exercise.  The researchers followed each person for an average of seven years after the treadmill test. All participants took a memory test and followed up with the study team once, with fewer than half making a second visit to complete additional cognitive tests.  By mapping participants' physical fitness against the number of errors they made on a range of cognitive tests over time, the team found that 80-year-olds who were at one point approximately twice as fit as their peers made about 25% fewer errors on a test of memory and concentration. Observing that: “Baseline cardiorespiratory fitness is related to longitudinal neuropsychological performance, and memory appears to be a particularly vulnerable domain,” the study authors conclude that: “Evidence that aerobic fitness is associated with accelerated cognitive decline emphasizes the possible importance of behavioral interventions to optimize cognitive aging over time.”

Carrington R. Wendell, John Gunstad, Shari R. Waldstein, Jeanette G. Wright, Luigi Ferrucci, Alan B. Zonderman.” Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Accelerated Cognitive Decline With Aging.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci., November 5, 2013.

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