For all you career people out there, are you missing out by not exercising? Does your brain deteriorate with age when all you do is flog yourself to death at work. We all know that we are encouraged to exercise not just to keep fit but to hopefully prolong our lives and keep good quality of life at the same time. This study shows how important exercise is to not just keep your body healthy but keep your brain young.
Do you believe in exercise and all the benefits. Leave a comment either way.
At the age of 93, Olga Kotelko — one of the most successful and acclaimed nonagenarian track-and-field athletes in history — traveled to the University of Illinois to let scientists study her brain.
Ms. Kotelko held a number of world records and had won hundreds of gold medals in masters events. But she was of particular interest to the scientific community because she hadn’t begun serious athletic training until age 77. So scanning her brain could potentially show scientists what late-life exercise might do for brains.
Ms. Kotelko died last year at the age of 95, but the results of that summer brain scan were published last month in Neurocase.
And indeed, Ms. Kotelko’s brain looked quite different from those of other volunteers aged 90-plus who participated in the study, the scans showed. The white matter of her brain — the cells that connect neurons and help to transmit messages from one part of the brain to another — showed fewer abnormalities than the brains of other people her age. And her hippocampus, a portion of the brain involved in memory, was larger than that of similarly aged volunteers (although it was somewhat shrunken in comparison to the brains of volunteers decades younger than her).
Over all, her brain seemed younger than her age.
But because the scientists didn’t have a scan showing Ms. Kotelko’s brain before she began training, it’s impossible to know whether becoming an athlete late in life improved her brain’s health or whether her naturally healthy brain allowed her to become a stellar masters athlete.
And that distinction matters. Before scientists can recommend exercise to forestall cognitive decline, they need to establish that exercise does in fact slow cognitive decline.
So far, much of the available evidence has been weak. Many epidemiological studies show that physically active older people perform better on cognitive tests than their sedentary counterparts. But those studies were associational and leave many questions unanswered.
A new experiment by the same group of researchers who scanned Ms. Kotelko’s brain, however, bolsters the idea that exercise makes a difference in aging brains.
In the study, published last month in PLOS One, Agnieszka Burzynska, now an assistant professor of human development at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and colleagues at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana scanned the brains of older men and women, aged 60 and 80, using a technique that tracks oxygen delivery to cells to determine brain activity. The researchers also measured their volunteers’ aerobic capacity and asked them to wear an activity monitor for a week to determine how much and how intensely they moved each day.
Notably, the most physically active elderly volunteers, according to their activity tracker data, had better oxygenation and healthier patterns of brain activity than the more sedentary volunteers — especially in parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, that are known to be involved in improved memory and cognition, and in connecting different brain areas to one another.