Ever since society turned away from spending every day engaged in back-breaking physical labor in the fields and in the home, people have been searching for ways to remain physically active. Our bodies, no matter how much we surround ourselves with mechanical aids, are still hot-wired for exercise. We need to keep moving and using our muscles, joints, and tendons. As the saying goes, we have to move it or lose it.
This is also true for the brain. If we don’t exercise our neurons, they aren’t as effective in helping us remember details and retain information. And while we now know that exercising the body and the brain are equally important, we’re still a little undecided about how long we should keep this exercise regime up. We know we want our grandkids to be active, certainly. And we ourselves likely tried to keep active in our 20s and 30s. But what about our 40s, 50s, and 60s? Can we finally start to kick back a bit and relax on the couch as we get older?
The simple answer to that question is: probably not. The average life expectancy is slowly increasing. People are living longer and now have to consider their quality of life in a way that the previous generation did not. Someone who is 50 may now have another 40 years of life to live. This fact alone makes it vitally important to keep the body and mind healthy through physical activity well into the senior years.
Some of you may be thinking right now that there’s no way you’re going to talk yourself into going to the gym for the next 20 or 30 years. That’s completely understandable. So here’s a solution for you: engage in a sport. That’s right—the same sports you used to play as a young man or woman can be a great way to stay fit as an older adult. You can compete in tennis tournaments, triathlons, hockey matches, or baseball games.
The truth is, being a so-called “masters” athlete is not only good for your aging body but your aging brain too. Consider the results from a recent clinical trial performed at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Researchers set out to investigate differences in the age-related decline in brain tissue between masters athletes and self-professed couch potatoes.
Twelve masters athletes (with an average age of 72 years) and 12 sedentary adults (average age 74 years) were compared to nine young controls. The researchers then examined the participants’ brain tissues and conducted tests which focused on executive function and memory.
The researchers found that the masters’ athletes and sedentary adults showed lower grey matter concentrations then the young controls. However, the masters’ athletes showed higher concentrations in grey matter associated with spatial function, motor control, and memory than the sedentary group. Even after controlling for estimated intelligence, the masters’ athletes still outperformed the sedentary adults on cognitive tests.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Tseng, B.Y., et al., “Masters athletes exhibit larger regional brain volume and better cognitive performance than sedentary older adults.” J Magn Reson Imaging. March 21, 2013.