What can older people do to boost brain function?

Simple physical activity supports cognitive abilities in later life, says study.

We know staying in shape as we age is vital for our physical and emotional health. Keeping active also helps our brain to function better.

Marissa Gogniat and colleagues from Georgia University designed a study to measure the effect of physical activity on cognitive performance.

In the study, fifty-one older adults completed specific tests to determine cognitive abilities and had an MRI to assess brain function. In addition, accelerometers measured daily steps and distance covered, and fitness was evaluated by walking as fast and as far as possible in 6-minutes.

The results published in Sport Sciences for Health suggest that even small amounts of physical activity in older people help maintain communication between different networks in the brain.

Marissa Gognait explained in a university news release

“The brain is made up of a bunch of distinct networks. Those networks are in constant communication, sending information to each other.”

“But different parts of the brain are active at different times.”

“The network that is active when the body is at rest, for example, flips off when a person starts trying to complete a task. At that time, another network kicks on.”

“While one of these networks is active, the other should be shut off. If it’s not, that’s a sign that a person’s brain isn’t functioning as well as it should be.”

“These networks are the key to being able to perform basic tasks in daily life, such as remembering important information and exhibiting self-control. But as people age, these tasks often become more difficult”.

“This study was the first to examine how these networks interact with physical activity and fitness to impact how the brain functions,” said Gogniat.

“This paper is 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. 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.”

Reference: Gogniat, M.A., Robinson, T.L., Jean, K.R. et al. Physical activity and fitness moderate the association between executive function and anti-correlated networks in the aging brain. Sport Sci Health (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11332-

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