Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The benefits of cognitive and physical training on mental functioning

Older women

Physical decline and the loss of executive function, cognitive control and memory in older adults is a well known and unfortunate side effect of aging. Older adults consistently perform lower in memory tests, than younger individuals and the gap widens with advancing age. However, physically active adults tend to maintain greater flexibility, energy (mental and physical) in old age. Interval training has been shown to reverse the signs of aging by changing cell metabolism. Exercise has cognitive benefits by triggering the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a key brain region for learning, memory and mood regulation. But age related cognitive decline due to aging can be slowed by both physical and brain exercises, although the exact nature of the relationship has not been understood. A recent randomized trial that compared effects of two training protocols: cognitive training vs. physical training on cognition and brain function in older adults (56–75 years), confirmed that both physical and cognitive exercises are beneficial, although they benefit the mind in a different way.

Executive function refers to the ability to flexibly select information; to maintain, update, and abstract meanings; and to fluidly innovate ideas, while at the same time maintaining an active goal in mind. Brain imaging methodologies can be used to unequivocally demonstrate functional benefits of training exercises on the brain. Goal Management Training have been shown to benefit working memory, verbal and abstract reasoning and it also reduced depressive symptoms. Evidence supports the intuitive view that any exercise program is better than none and exercise improves life functionality more, than specific cognitive training protocols.

The present results also provide clinically-relevant evidence that aerobic exercise and cognitive reasoning training improves brain health differently. Cognitive training enhances executive functions and the supporting neural systems. Advanced reasoning training could increase the resilience of neural function and overall cognitive brain health. The brain benefits from cognitive training by increased neuronal demand and function in particular areas. In contrast, physical exercise led to memory gains by triggering functional improvements in the hippocampus, an area at the base of the brain that is important in memory, which is particularly vulnerable to aging and dementia. As the life expectancy increases, the cognitive benefits of healthy habits, such as complex reasoning and aerobic exercise is becoming more important to understand. Future trials are needed to determine whether combined protocols, such as reasoning training/physical exercise, have additive effects in promoting cognitive vitality for aging people.

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