Fitness Can Improve Thinking Among Aging

The above headline comes from the February 17, 2004 Associated Press, and offers seniors hope for a vital life. Researchers at the University of Illinois reported that improving fitness can boost the thinking ability of aging adults. The study published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that adults ages 58 to 78 who began a fitness program, even as simple as brisk walking, saw improvements in how their brains functioned.

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. Arthur F. Kramer of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois explained, "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,"