Your Brain on Fitness
Being physically fit may impact your brain’s health and functionality. A recent study in Japan found that fitter, older men perform better mentally than less fit, older men. The study revealed that the brains of fitter men solved problems the way younger brains do.
The prefontal cortex (PFC) is the part of the brain that governs memory, intelligence, language and vision. The left side of the PFC is used by younger people to understand word meaning and recognize familiar people, events and things. In contrast, older adults use the both sides of the PFC for most mental tasks. Researchers believe that this is a compensation that occurs as we age.
The study suggests that white matter in the part of the brain that links the two sides declines with age. Fitter adults may be better able to maintain this white matter better than less fit adults. More study is required to confirm this theory, but that is not all the good news about fitness and your brain.
Adding mental training to our physical training may help strengthen, improve or even change brain regions. Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to change and adapt, is optimal when movement marries with mental skills drills. Engaging in a simple brain skill, such as recalling a memory or doing a math problem in your head, while walking and talking, increases sensory input to the brain. The increased input makes the skill a bit more challenging by encouraging the brain to function simultaneously with the body. Here’s a simple activity to try. Keep your activity moderate at first to give your brain the opportunity to adapt. While your body is in motion, say your favorite color aloud. Spell it forward and backward. How many letters does it have? Does your phone number contain that number? If so, repeat your phone number. This drill engages spatial, language and math skills.
A recent article written by fitness pro Lawrence Biscontini, proclaims that coupling brain games with movement is a new approach to change how we age. You’ll likely be hearing more about this new strategy to prolong brain health in the future.