It's no secret that as we age, we're prone to slow down, both mentally and physically. Scientists have even documented a loss of brain tissue in the aging brain. Yet not all brains deteriorate at the same rate and to the same extent, leading some researchers to argue that the aging brain remains capable of regenerating itself—with the right kind of a kick start.
Now a new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests that simply getting regular aerobic exercise for as little as six months may help give older people's brains the boost they need to stay mentally sharp.
In the study, pioneering brain researchers Art Kramer and Kirk Erickson found that only six months of moderate levels of aerobic activity—exercise that made participants breathless—is enough to significantly improve older people's cognitive functions and brain tissue growth. More specifically, when compared with a control group that only completed stretching and toning exercises, previously sedentary participants between the ages of 60 and 75, assigned to do moderate levels of aerobic exercises, performed better on tasks testing abilities that commonly decline with age (e.g., ability to control one's impulses, the ability quickly change what one is doing, the ability to focus amid distraction). Kramer and Erickson also report that previous studies have found that an aerobic training regimen can increase grey matter in areas of the brain most prone to age-related tissue loss.
"Moderate levels of exercise can serve as both a preventive measure against age-related cognitive and brain deterioration and a treatment to reverse decay and cognitive deficits already present in older adults," the authors conclude.