Improving fitness can boost aging adults' brain functions

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) Improving fitness also can boost the thinking ability of aging adults, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.

Adults ages 58 to 78 who began a fitness program, even as simple as brisk walking, saw improvements in how their brains functioned, according to a study published in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study 41 adults began an exercise program that gradually increased over three months to a 45-minute walk three times a week. Their brain activity was measured by magnetic resonance imaging.

After three months the adults in the exercise program showed increased brain activity and had an 11 percent improvement on tests that measured their decision-making while performing a variety of tasks.

A control group of similar age and health that only did stretching and toning exercises, but not the cardiovascular walking program, had lower brain activity than the other group and only showed a 2 percent improvement in performance, which the researchers said was not statistically significant.

Earlier studies by the same researchers, led by Arthur F. Kramer of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois, had showed that aging adults do better mentally if they are fit. This was the first time the group had looked at whether beginning an exercise program can show changes in brain function.

''The kinds of tasks that we explored are similar to those encountered in real world situations such as driving a vehicle or any endeavor that requires a person to pay attention despite distractions,'' Kramer said in a statement.

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