Se­crets of men­tal fit­ness

The Covington News - - Front page -

the de­clines in cog­ni­tion that comes with ad­vanc­ing age. A bet­ter dic­tum than the “old dogs” one was coined by our sec­ond Pres­i­dent, John Adams, who said, “Old minds are like old horses; you must ex­er­cise them if you wish to keep them in work­ing or­der.”

Sci­en­tists and philoso­phers have been study­ing how to keep our minds vi­brant for cen­turies. Most re­cently, Kar­lene Ball of the Uni­ver­sity of Alabama has found that cog­ni­tive train­ing in the ar­eas of mem­ory, rea­son­ing and vis­ual search helped a large sam­ple of in­di­vid­u­als over the age of 65 sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove their abil­i­ties on th­ese tasks over those who did not re­ceive the train­ing. Th­ese im­proved skills per­sisted for many years.

Phys­i­cal ex­er­cise may be even more im­por­tant than men­tal train­ing in sus­tain­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing over the years. Kris­tine Yaffe at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in 2001 stud­ied women over the age of 65 for six to eight years and found that the most ac­tive women had a 30 per­cent lower risk of cog­ni­tive de­cline. In­ter­est­ingly, walk­ing dis­tance was re­lated to cog­ni­tion, but walk­ing speed was not.

Even bet­ter, aer­o­bic ex­er­cise and ton­ing your cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem im­proves brain fit­ness. In 1995, Marilyn Al­bert of Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity found that stren­u­ous ac­tiv­ity and peak pul­monary ex­pi­ra­tory flow rate among 70 to 79 year olds was the best pre­dic­tor of cog­ni­tive ef­fi­ciency in the ar­eas of ver­bal and non ver­bal mem­ory, lan­guage, con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion and vi­su­ospa­tial abil­ity. In younger sam­ples, Mar­cus Richards of the Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don in 2003 re­ported that phys­i­cal ex­er­cise and leisure-time ac­tiv­i­ties at age 36 was as­so­ci­ated with higher per­for­mance on mem­ory tests at ages 43 to 53 years.

De­men­tia, an ill­ness of de­clin­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing in later years, was stud­ied by Suvi Rovio in Swe­den in 2005. This study found that phys­i­cal ex­er­cises that lasted 20 to 30 min­utes daily and caused breath­less­ness and per­spi­ra­tion in peo­ple of mid­dle age gave them a 52 per­cent lower odds of hav­ing de­men­tia than a com­pa­ra­ble seden­tary group at ages 65 to 79.

Other fac­tors are as­so­ci­ated with im­proved cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing in later years, such as hav­ing a vi­brant so­cial life. A pos­i­tive at­ti­tude also seems to be im­por­tant, but it may be that it is the pos­i­tive at­ti­tude that in­flu­ences other health re­lated be­hav­iors re­lated to im­proved cog­ni­tion more so than just the pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. But why take the chance? Keep­ing a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­ward your­self and sup­port­ing healthy ex­er­cise, both men­tally and phys­i­cally, will help see you into your later years with a men­tal sharp­ness you most likely wouldn’t have lead­ing a seden­tary, so­cially iso­lated life­style.

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