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How can cognitive decline be slowed down?
Unfortunately, people's cognitive abilities decrease over the course of their lives. Medical professionals have long been looking for ways to combat the effects of aging. Regular aerobic training seems to help counteract cognitive decline.
In their latest study, Columbia University scientists found that exercising regularly seems to protect important cognitive skills. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Neurology".
Aerobic exercise protects executive brain function
The current study found that 132 subjects between the early 20s and late 60s experienced an improvement in the so-called executive functions of the brain when they underwent a regular aerobic exercise program. Executive functions are cognitive skills that help us plan ahead, clarify things or solve complex problems, explains study author Dr. Yaakov star.
What is aerobic training?
With aerobic training, the body is adequately supplied with oxygen. The body can metabolize fats and carbohydrates and lactate is produced in such small amounts that it can be broken down again immediately. Sports such as running, cycling or swimming are ideal for aerobic training.
Start aerobic training early
Unfortunately, executive functions eventually peak and then decrease at a certain age (age depends on the person). However, this natural decline in executive functions appears to be slowing. Surprisingly, the medical team found that aerobic exercise can improve executive function in participants aged 20 and over, which prevents executive functions from being reduced later in life. The improvements found in aerobic exercise in terms of executive functions are significant enough to be relevant to people in their twenties, says study author Dr. Yaakov star.
Subjects trained for six months
In the study, Stern had subjects of all ages train four times a week for six months. They either did aerobic training in certain heart rate zones (about 75 percent of their maximum heart rate) or they did stretching and other basic exercises. The team then tested the volunteer's executive functions through a series of tasks related to memory or speed associations. These tests were performed once halfway through the study and once at the end of the six month trial.
There were statistically significant improvements in the results for people of all ages who were in the aerobic exercise group, even in the 20 year old subjects. When reviewing the results, the scientists found that the older someone was, the more drastic the improvements in score compared to baseline. The study showed that the impact of aerobic exercise on executive functions increased with age, so that, for example, a 40-year-old experienced a greater improvement than a 30-year-old.
Benefits from aerobic training
Aerobic exercise can be beneficial for brain function as it can increase vascularization in the brain, helping to make blood flow more consistent. Probably aerobic training also promotes plasticity, which maintains the versatility of the brain cells and can create new connections. In addition, participants in the aerobic training group also increased the so-called cortical thickness of the brain, the outer layer of the brain mass. This increase in cortical thickness is important because cortical thinning is actually associated with aging disorders that build up so-called plaques in the brain, such as dementia. Aerobic exercise also improved cortical thickness in people over the age of 20 who are unlikely to experience significant cognitive decline. The data suggest that introducing regular exercise at an early stage could help the brain build these important defense mechanisms. By the age of twenty, people may not have to worry about cognitive decline, but it seems like a few workouts a week will prepare people better to address the negative effects of aging on the brain. (as)