Thursday, November 15, 2007
Exercise on the Brain
Aamodt and Wang contribute an Op-Ed piece with the title of this post in the Nov. 8 New York Times. Their main message is that all of the 'brain exercise' programs that are marketed to counter the cognitive decline associated with aging are more expensive, complicated, and vastly less effective than vigorous daily exercise (not to suggest that these are competing alternatives, it is certainly best to do both). They note that while activities like solving puzzles or remembering lists can induce lasting changes in these specialized areas, physical exercise improves “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Executive function includes basic functions like processing speed, response speed and working memory, the type used to remember a house number while walking from the car to a party. They also note studies showing the numerous theraputic effects of exercise, such as delaying both the onset of dementia and the shrinking of the frontal cortex that occurs with age.