How to stay mentally sharp as you age

Most of us know what we need to do to keep our bodies fit, but how can we keep our brain fit? It turns out that the answer might be the same for both: Exercise.

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a study that has been following a group of Scottish school children born in 1936. In 1947, at age 11, those children were tested for cognitive ability. Sixty years later, a group of them agreed to retake the same test.

In addition to the cognition test, they filled out lengthy questionnaires that examined things like family history, health history and level of physical activity. They also underwent MRI brain scans. The results? There appeared to be a direct correlation between physical activity and brain shrinkage. Those who were inactive had more brain shrinkage and greater cognitive decline. Those who were active had less. Alan Gow, one of the researchers conducting the survey, summarized it this way: “People who exercise more have better brain health.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the study didn’t find a similar correlation between brain health and things like social interaction or intellectual activities. In other words, if you want to keep your brain fit as you age, put down the Sudoku and pick up the barbell.

Fit by 40 Update

While we’re on the topic of health, I thought I’d give you an update on my own quest to get into shape. My trainer continues to come up with workouts apparently taken from the Rocky IV playbook (push this box, life this weight, chase this chicken). So far I’ve dropped ten pounds of fat and replaced it with five pounds of lean muscle. I still have a ways to go, but so far so good.

Thanks for the encouraging notes that many of you have sent. Hopefully some of you will use my story as motivation to start a program of your own. Especially now that we know how exercise can benefit our brain as well as our biceps.

Have a great week!

~ Joe

Photo by Kiran Raja Bahadur.  Used under Creative Commons License.

2 Responses to “How to stay mentally sharp as you age”

  1. Gay Bofill January 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Hi Joe,
    You may or may not remember me, but I wrote to you several months ago for advice about whether or not my elderly father who has early stage Alzheimer’s Disease should remain in the stock market. You had confirmed what I have been wanting for a long time even before he got diagnosed, that 87 years olds should not play the market in such volatile times. I want to report to you that after one of the last market drops and my upteenth discussion with him about pulling out, he finally decided to do it. I am much happier and calmer not having to worry about money I may need to care for him being lost needlessly by what’s happening in economics today.
    Thanks again for your advice and also for your articles. I really enjoy reading them and though I’m still several years away, I CAN’T WAIT TO RETIRE!!!

    • Joe Hearn January 25, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Hi Gay. Absolutely I remember you. Glad to hear that things worked out well for you and your father. It’s great to have you around the site. Touch base if I can ever help with anything else, especially as you get closer to your own retirement. 🙂

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