According to a study, the fitter older people are physically, the better their learning capabilities. Older people scoring higher on cardiorespiratory fitness tests had improved memory task performance compared to people with lower cardiorespiratory fitness. The fitter people also had better brain activity when learning. Difficulty remembering things is one of the most common problems of aging.
Healthy younger 18 to 31 year olds and older 55 to 74 year olds with a wide range of levels of fitness participated in the study. To determine cardiorespiratory fitness, the ratio of inhaled oxygen and exhaled oxygen as well as carbon dioxide was measured while the participants jogged and walked on a treadmill. Brain images were collected by means of MRI scans while they learned and remembered names associated with unfamiliar face pictures.
The older participants in comparison to the younger participants found it more difficult to learn and remember the correct name associated with each unfamiliar face picture.
The older participants had increased brain activity in some areas and decreased brain activity in other areas when learning. The degree to which these changes in memory performance and brain activity were seen in the older participants depended largely on their level of fitness. Highly fit older people had better memory performance and increased brain activity patterns in comparison to their less fit peers. The increased brain activity in the highly fit older people was seen in brain regions that show typical age-related decline, which suggests that fitness can contribute to maintenance of the brain. Highly fit older people also had greater brain activity than young people in some regions, which suggests that fitness can also serve a compensatory role in age-related brain and memory decline.
The study highlights that cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with brain function and memory performance as well as improving physical health. Most importantly, cardiorespiratory fitness is a modifiable health factor which can be improved by participating regularly in moderate to vigorous sustained physical activities such as jogging, walking, dancing or swimming. So starting an exercise program at any age can contribute to better brain function and memory performance as well as to the more obvious physical health factors.
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