All Brawn, All Brains

in Active Aging

Written by Christine Thompson

Usually you’re one or the other. The brawn. Or the brains. Happily, a new study reveals you can be both. Even if you fit into the 75+ set!

The study, conducted by Boston University, shows a direct correlation between cardio-respiratory levels and memory retention in seniors.

Resident writing in a notebook

The study compared 33 young adults (age 18-31) and 27 older adults (age 55-82) with a wide range of cardio-respiratory levels. The participants completed exercise testing to evaluate their cardio-respiratory function, and neuro-psychological testing to test their memory, planning and problem-solving abilities.

The study found that older adults, even up to age 82, with a good heart and healthy lungs seem to have better memory recall and general cognitive capability than those with a weaker heart or lungs. The most fit senior citizens in the study actually performed as well as younger adults in the executive functioning testing.

This finding is contrary to how we typically think of aging and the brain. We used to assume a gradual decline in executive function (problem solving, planning and organizing) and in long-term memory. Not so, according to this new research.

The study found that older adults who were the most fit with their cardio-respiratory function, performed as well as young adults on the executive functioning measures. Better physical fitness levels were associated with improved executive function and memory for the older adults in the study.

Residents outside pole walking

Scott Haynes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine explains it this way, “Aerobic activities to enhance your cardio-respiratory functioning like walking or dancing are inexpensive, accessible and could potentially improve a senior’s quality of life, simply by delaying cognitive decline and prolonging independent function.”

“More research is needed,” Scott explains, “to explore the specific mechanism of how physical fitness enhances brain structure and function as well as to clarify the impact of specific exercise programs or dose of exercise on a range of cognitive functions.” he added.

In other words, now that we know physical fitness improves brain function for older adults, we need to figure out the exact formula. How often? Strength training? Aerobic? Or a combination? How intense? How long?

But at this point, any activity is clearly better for your brain than none.

We’re happy to report that a great deal of our residents at PARC Retirement Living already seem to be on that path. We promote active aging by providing fitness facilities, walking groups, yoga, exercise classes and more. Getting started on, or continuing an exercise program is easy at a PARC community.

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