Recent studies offer encouraging news for those of us afraid of losing our mental edge with age.
Research shows that exercise – any exercise – has a profound effect on overall cognitive function. Beyond merely stemming memory loss, exercise targets different aspects of cognition to improve recall.
One study recruited women ages 70 to 80 who had mild cognitive impairment, making memory and thinking more muddled than would be expected at a given age. Seniors with this condition develop Alzheimer's disease at higher rates than normal. The women were divided into groups assigned to walking, weight lifting and stretching. After six months, the women who stretched scored worse on memory tests; but the women who exercised in both of the other two groups scored better. While the different types of exercise may have different effects in the brain, they both cause improvement in memory.
Another study examined the effect of exercise on patients with heart failure, because those patients are at high risk of memory loss and other thinking skills. Since the heart is not pumping enough blood to the body, the brain is not getting enough either. A cardiac rehab program that incorporated exercise reversed memory loss.
Finally, for those of us whose brains are simply fried by environmental stresses there's more good news from a study that looked at the cognitive impact of green spaces. A simple walk in the park refreshes the brain by providing relief from constant noise and hectic nerve-wracking demands of city living. The human brain's ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed with external stimulation, causing it to become distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty. Natural environments engage the brain with effortless attention, allowing for reflection.
To stay mentally sharp, schedule time out for a walk in the park! It's productive therapy for your best thinking.