Aerobic workouts are some of the easiest ways to help your body. Moreover, for added convenience, they can be done at any time of the day. And, most importantly they are also good for your brain.
Now, the brain shrinks naturally as we get older. In addition to this natural process, brains also shrink from infections, some diseases and disorders, alcohol abuse, and injuries. In fact, some of the physical changes, that occur, include decreased brain mass, shrinkage around areas containing nerve fibers, and fewer connections between neurons.
Effects of Aging and Fitness on Brain Volume and Cognition
Now, a study from the Boston University School of Medicine reported that people in their 40s, with poor physical fitness levels, had significantly lower brain volumes by the time they reach the 60s.
So, to get a better understanding for this reduction in brain volume, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans were taken of 1,200 adults in their 40s and when they reached their 60s. Indeed, these MRI scans showed that less fit adults in their 40s had much lower levels of brain tissue in their 60s.
In addition, researchers conducted cognitive tests on these adults when they reached their 60s. And, they found that adults with lower fitness levels in their 40s did worse, in their cognitive tests, than adults with higher fitness levels in their 40s.
How Blood Pressure Affects Cognition
Most of all, researchers also found that adults, with poor physical fitness levels, experience more spikes in blood pressure and heart rate in response to even low levels of physical activity than adults who are physically fit. Moreover, these fluctuations in blood pressure can damage small vessels in the brain, which are vulnerable to the fluctuations. And, this vascular damage, in the brain, contributes to cognitive loss.
Aerobics Improves Cognitive Functions and Intelligence
Now, cognitive functions such as learning, reasoning, behaving appropriately, remembering information, and memory processing speeds are mental processes needed to live in today’s world. Regrettably, these functions deteriorate as we grow older.
Also, studies, using MRI scans, have shown that intelligence is positively corelated to cortical thickness. However, cortical thickness gets thinner as we age. So, both cognitive functions and intelligence decline with age.
Most noteworthy, a recent Columbia University study showed that aerobic workouts improved cognitive functions and cortical thickness (as well as brain volume) of middle-aged and older adults. Indeed, these researchers found that the older the aerobic exercising adults were the more pronounced the positive effects on their cognitive functions and cortical thickness. Also, they found that even middle-aged adults had similar benefits from aerobic workouts.
Moreover, these benefits were seen by both regular exercisers as well as sedentary adults. So, aerobic workouts not only help improve external physique and body image, they also help the brain.
Transient Improvements in Cognitive Functions and Working Memory
Next, a recent University of Iowa study reported that elders, who regularly did aerobic workouts, saw improvements in cognitive functions and working memory.
However, they also found that some seniors who did aerobic workouts for just one session saw improvements in cognitive functions and working memory. Moreover, these improvements disappear on days when they didn’t exercise. Consequently, because of the quick positive feedback, these elders may be motivated to regularly workout in order to maintain their improved cognitive functions and working memory.
By the way, the 60 to 80 years old elders in the study were healthy but not regularly active. Also, brain scans and working memory tests were used to track their improvements.
Aerobics Improves Cognition Even in Younger Adults
Another recent study from Columbia University reports that aerobics improves cognition even for young and middle-aged adults. In fact, adults between the ages of 20 to 67 increased their executive function (which are cognitive processes for reasoning, planning, and problem solving) by doing aerobics. Moreover, the improvements were greater with age.
Most of all, the study showed that there is flexibility in when, what, and how to do aerobic workouts.
Now, executive functions usually peak around the age 30. So, aerobic workouts help slow down the decrease in executive functions with age. By the way, an example of executive function includes paying bills, which requires skills like planning, organizing, and moving from one related task to another.
However, the study noted that aerobics did not improve cognitive functions like processing speed, language attention, or episodic memory. However, studies like the ones previously described, in this article, showed cognitive function improvements in adults over 55.
Finally, brain imaging showed that aerobics significantly increased cortical thickness in the left caudal middle frontal cortex. Notably, this increase was not related to age. Also, increases in gray matter was not related to changes in the cognitive domain for these younger adults.
So, the bottom line is that, aerobic workouts of all kinds not only helps your cardiovascular system but also your brain. Moreover, there are many kinds of aerobic activities to choose from. For example, seniors can walk, garden, swim, dance, or even use indoor mini ellipticals. While, younger adults can play sports, run, bicycle, and swim to name just a few.