Study Reveals Good News And Bad News For People Over 50

Computer use may be a double-edged sword when it comes to older people

Older people today are sharper than ever but need to get in better physical shape, a new study found. German research published in the journal PLOS ONE said that while older people's cognitive processing speed was strong, the average physical health of the older population has declined. And the cause for that sharper brain power? The use of technology -- computers -- is forcing older people to stay mentally sharp, the study's authors suggest.

The study found that cognitive test scores climbed significantly within a six-year period for both men and women ages 50 to 90, but physical functioning and mental health worsened. This was especially true for low-educated men aged 50-64, according to a press release.

Cognition begins to suffer with age, making it an important characteristic in the evaluation of how successfully various population groups age. 

According to the press release, previous studies have found elderly people to be in increasingly good health -- "younger" in many ways than previous generations the same age -- with physical and cognitive measures all going up over time. The new study is the first to show disparate trends over time between cognitive and physical function.

What's the cause for our physical health declining while our brains stay sharp? "We think that these divergent results can be explained by changing lifestyles," says IIASA World Population Program researcher Nadia Steiber, author of the PLOS ONE study, in a release. "Life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology also by older people, and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs. At the same time, we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising levels of obesity."

Yep, we sit too much but our smartphones may be our savior. Who would have thought? Previously, experts have worried that technology was causing people to stop thinking, while now it appears that the mental acuity needed to operate our technological gadgets may be making people smarter.

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