An interview with Dr. Martin Löder, University of Bayreuth
Exercise promotes important cerebral functions and accelerates thought processes
Those who take regular exercise benefit in terms of the speed at which their brain can process information while it also bolsters certain other brain activities. At the same time, physical activity is not an antidote to memory loss – these are the results of a study conducted by the LADIS study group that were presented at the 21st World Congress of Neurology held in Vienna in the autumn of 2013. More than 8000 specialists came together in Vienna to discuss the latest findings in their discipline. "We already know that exercise helps counter the degeneration of mental faculties but what we didn't know is what cognitive abilities are influenced by physical activity. As part of the on-going LADIS study, we therefore decided to investigate to what extent exercise has an effect on the rate of thought processes, executive cerebral functions and memory in individuals with age-related white matter changes who have not developed dementia," explained study co-author Prof. Dr. Franz Fazekas of the Medical University of Graz.
Recruited for the study were 282 subjects (164 women and 118 men) with an average age of 73 years, none of whom exhibited symptoms of dementia. They were initially subjected to extensive clinical screening procedures that included magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Their cognitive status and the extent to which they were physically active were determined. The study was conducted over a period of 3 years, whereby the subjects reported annually for follow-up examinations. "Our study produced positive results for the more active of the study subjects. We registered higher values for executive cerebral functions both at study commencement and after 3 years in those who took more physical exercise," Prof. Fazekas went on to say. These mental functions are important regulatory mechanisms in terms of how we behave and act. For example, they determine to what extent an individual can plan ahead and decide to set goals and also control themselves and their impulses.
The study additionally found that physical activity produced a further bonus in that cerebral processes are more rapid in those who take exercise in comparison with those who are more sedentary. However, a physically active lifestyle does not seem to provide corresponding benefits when it comes to memory. "Despite this, our findings again emphasize the need to take regular exercise on a daily basis because this is not just good for the body but also for the brain," concluded Prof. Fazekas. "The improvement of mental performance is a more than welcome side effect of the positive influence that exercise has on the physical side of things. And in this case, we have not even taken into account the potential advantages for cerebral function provided by targeted cognitive training."
The LADIS study group
The LADIS European research group is conducting a large scale study, the objective of which is to determine to what extent non-specific changes to the cerebral subcortical white matter (or 'leukoaraiosis') contribute towards gradual disability and the need for long-term care in otherwise independent elderly individuals. 'LADIS' is an acronym for 'Leukoaraiosis and Disability'. The findings with regard to the benefits of exercise are the result of a subgroup analysis.
Source: WCN abstract: Frederiksen et al.; Being physically active is associated with improved executive function and processing speed but not memory: the LADIS Study
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