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Exercise improves thinking skills: Study

Tue 12 Feb 2019, 13:41:15
Washington: Regular aerobic exercise can help in improving thinking skills not only in older people but in young people as well, a recent study suggests. According to the research, regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but in young people too.

The study also found that the positive effect of exercise on thinking skills may increase as people age. The specific set of thinking skills that improved with exercise is called executive function. Executive function is a person's ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organise and achieve goals.

“As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline. We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer of their brain,” said Yaakov Stern, lead author of the study.

The study involved 132 people between the ages of 20 and 67 who did not smoke or have dementia but who also did not exercise at the start of the study and were determined to have below average fitness levels.

Participants were randomly assigned to six months of either aerobic exercise or stretching and toning four times a week. The two groups were equally balanced for age, sex, education as well as memory and thinking skills at the start of the study.

All participants either exercised or stretched and toned at a fitness center and checked in weekly with coaches monitoring their progress. They all wore heart rate monitors as well. Participants' thinking and memory skills were evaluated at the start of the study as well as at three months and at the end of the six-month study.

Participants also had MRI brain scans at the start and end of the study. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Neurology. Researchers found that aerobic exercise increased thinking skills. From the beginning of the study to the end, those who did aerobic exercise improved their overall scores on executive function tests by 0.50 points, which was a statistically significant difference from those who did stretching and toning, who improved by 0.25 points.

"Since a difference of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to 20 years of age-related difference in performance on these tests, the people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60," Stern said.

He added, "Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline. Our research confirms that exercise can be beneficial to adults of any age," said Stern.




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