Older Adults Getting FitAerobic exercise, which includes activities like walking, dancing, or swimming, plays a big role in being healthy. A new study finds that aerobic exercise can also help your memory. Researchers at Boston University Medical Center investigated the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), memory, and cognition in adults. The research revealed that older adults with higher levels of CRF had better memory recall and stronger cognitive skills. The findings suggest that regular aerobic exercise may limit the cognitive affects associated with aging.

The researchers compared a group of 33 young adults (ages 18 to 31) to a group of 27 older adults (ages 55 to 82). The participants had a wide range of cardiorespiratory fitness. The researchers assessed the participants’ memory, planning, and problem solving skills—the latter two skills representing executive function abilities. The participants also performed a memory task in which they had to learn to associate faces and names.

Older adults with higher levels of CRF performed as well as the younger adults on measures of executive function. On measurements of long-term memory, the younger adults outperformed the older adults. However, the older adults with high fitness levels demonstrated better memory skills than the older adults with low fitness levels. This suggests that, for older adults, fitness is associated with improved memory and executive function. Fitness levels had no bearing on memory or executive function in younger adults.

The study’s corresponding author, Scott Haynes, PhD, Associate Director of Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center at the VA Boston Health Care System explains the study’s impact. “Our findings that CRF may mitigate age-related cognitive decline is appealing for a variety of reasons, including that aerobic activities to enhance CRF (walking, dancing, etc.) are inexpensive, accessible and could potentially improve quality of life by delaying cognitive decline and prolonging independent function.”

Unlike previous studies related to exercise and cognitive performance, this study finds evidence that CRF supports long-term memory, not just executive function. The authors call for more research into the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and memory in older adults.

This research is published in the Journal of Gerontology.

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