Are you looking for a way to slow down Father Time? You might want to sign up for an aerobics class. Research at Columbia University has found aerobic exercise helped participants improve their so-called executive functions, with older people seeing the greatest improvements.
Executive functions are the higher-level cognitive skills we use to control and coordinate our other cognitive abilities. Think of it as the boss who oversees all of your other departments so they operate efficiently and effectively. For instance, you might be tempted to devour that piece of cake, but your executive system reminds you that eating it would mess with your diet.
The researchers gathered participants ages 20 to 67 who were sedentary and cognitively intact. The groups were about 70% women with a median age of 39 and with similar education and aerobic functions.
They were assigned to either aerobic training or a program of stretching and core-strengthening exercises. For the first two weeks, they trained at 60% of their maximum heart rate. By weeks 5 through 26, they were at 75% of their maximum heart rate.
At six months, those in the aerobic group saw significant improvements in their executive functions compared with the stretching group, with older adults benefiting more than their younger counterparts. Those who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40, and 20 years younger at age 60.
As a bonus, the exercise group also had increased aerobic capacity and lower body mass indexes. Let’s see: exercising led to improved aerobic capacity, loss of weight and improved brain functioning. It sure sounds like a rare win-win-win situation.