What Physical Fitness Does To The Brains Of Older Adults

Fit body. Strong mind.

Your fitness level doesn't just show on the outside -- it shows on the inside, too. A new study shows that older adults who are physically active have more flexible, healthier brains.

“We found that spontaneous brain activity showed more moment-to-moment fluctuations in the more-active adults,” researcher Agnieszka Burzynska said in a release.

The study looked at 100 adults, aged 60 to 80, and had them wear an accelerometer to measure their physical activity over the course of a week. They also looked at brain oxygen levels and brain activity at rest in the adults, using MRI scans.

The more active adults had more variable brain activity at rest than their less active counterparts. Researchers say this is indicative of better cognitive performance.

“In a previous study, we showed that in some of the same regions of the brain, those people who have higher brain variability also performed better on complex cognitive tasks, especially on intelligence tasks and memory," Burzynska said.

What's more is that adults who had moderate-to-vigorous levels of physical activity had better white matter structure -- which helps with nerve signaling -- .than those who were less fit.

“Our study, when viewed in the context of previous studies that have examined behavioral variability in cognitive tasks, suggests that more-fit older adults are more flexible, both cognitively and in terms of brain function," University of Illinois researcher Arthur Kramer said in a release.

The full findings are published in the latest edition of journal PLOS ONE.

Numerous studies have supported the claim that fitness plays an important role in how our brains age. One 2014 study found that exercising in middle age could have a sort of protective effect over the next 20 years, boosting brain volume and lowering the risk of Alzheimer's. Other studies have touted the benefits of aerobic activity, in particular, for increasing brain volume.

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