Answered by on Monday, June 1, 2009
Researchers at Arizona State University tested 98 subjects who were suffering from lung disease and found that those who were aerobically fit performed better on mental tests than their less-fit peers. The subjects were first asked to walk as far as they could in six minutes and were then given a series of mental and memory tests. Those who walked the farthest in the six-minute period (i.e., were more aerobically fit), scored the highest on the mental tests.
Although the study (published in the journal Chest) was limited to older adults between ages 56 and 80 with chronic lung diseases—which can decrease the amount of oxygen reaching the brain—the findings support the belief that exercise can help slow the march of time on your mental processes, says lead author Jennifer Etnier, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Arizona State.
"There is evidence that indicates that aerobic fitness is associated with increased cerebral blood flow," says Etnier. And although no causative link has yet been established, I think one reason aerobically fit older people do better on cognitive functioning tests is that they have more oxygen available to the brain.
While Etnier emphasizes that more research is needed to determine whether physical fitness can slow the aging process in young, healthy people, she says "the bottom line is that this study supports the belief that aerobic fitness may serve to minimize or slow the normal age-related declines in cognitive functioning." No word yet on whether pulling an all-nighter in the gym will also help raise your test scores.