THURSDAY, Oct. 11, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Good lung health may help you maintain your brain's processing speed and problem-solving abilities as you age, according to a new study.
While reduced lung function had a negative effect on these two types of "fluid" cognitive [thinking] abilities, it was not linked with poorer memory or any significant loss of stored knowledge, the researchers said. Changes in thinking function did not affect lung health.
For the study, the research team analyzed data from 832 people, aged 50 to 85, in Sweden who were followed for up to 19 years. The findings were published recently of the journal Psychological Science.
"The logical conclusion from this is that anything you could do to maintain lung function should be of benefit to fluid cognitive performance as well," study author Charles Emery, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, said in a university news release.
"Maintaining an exercise routine and stopping smoking would be two primary methods. Nutritional factors and minimizing environmental exposure to pollutants also come into play," he added.
The findings also provide new insight into the process of human aging. One theory of aging suggests that all functions that slow down do so at the same rate, but this study suggests that declines in some areas of health contribute to declines in other areas, Emery said.
"In this case, pulmonary [lung] functioning may be contributing to other aspects of functioning," Emery said. "It starts to speak to the bigger question: What are the processes involved in aging?"
The study did not look at how reduced lung function affects the brain, but Emery and his colleagues suggested that poor lung health may lower the availability of oxygen in the blood. This, in turn, could affect chemicals that transmit signals between brain cells.
While the study found an association between lung function and thinking ability, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about lungs and breathing.