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Exercise Sharpens Judgment

Aerobic walks improve seniors' ability to make clearheaded choices

TUESDAY, Feb. 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Brisk walks that improve cardiovascular fitness help aging adults sharpen their mental focus and decision-making abilities.

That simple solution to cognitive decline appears in a study in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in brain activity among adults, aged 58 to 78, before and after they completed a six-month aerobic exercise program.

The program involved gradually increasing periods of walking over the first three months. In the final three months, each person walked briskly for 45 minutes in three sessions per week.

Those who completed the aerobic exercise program reduced their level of behavioral conflict in completing a computer-based task by 11 percent from their pre-exercise levels. A group of control subjects who did only stretching and toning had a decrease of 2 percent.

"The brain circuits that underlie our ability to think -- in this case to attend selectively to information in the environment -- can change in a way that is conducive to better performance on tasks as a result of fitness. The kinds of tasks that we explored are similar to those encountered in real world situations, such as driving a vehicle or any endeavor that requires a person to pay attention despite distractions," researcher and psychology professor Arthur F. Kramer says in a prepared statement.

More information

Here's where you can learn how exercise eases symptoms of anxiety and depression.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, news release, Feb. 16, 2004
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