Secrets behind the Real World! etc.: I wrote a story for Digital Trends that, in the end, I couldn’t actually use today. So I thought I’d let you see it here, instead. Enjoy…?
Exercise isn’t just good for the body, a new study suggests; it also helps mental agility in later life. Which means, yes, now you have two reasons to feel guilty about failing to make it to the gym today.
The study comes from a team led by Dr. Alex Dregan from King’s College London in which more than 9,000 participants were tracked for decades to see the effects of regular amounts of exercise on the human body. Those taking part in the study were regularly interviewed to monitor both their levels of exercise and physical activity, but also their mental agility in terms of learning capability, attention and focus and strength of memory. According to the results, those who had been exercising more than two or three times a month since age 11 ended up scoring higher in mental tests at the age of 50 than those who had not.
(Sadly, the study – the findings of which were released Tuesday in the journal Psychological Medicine – didn’t contain information about the mental health benefits for those of us who gave up on exercise for their twenties because PE was just that traumatic, but eventually returned to it because, well, aging.)
According to Dregan, the results underscore the necessity for people to increase their amount of physical activity. “As exercise represents a key component of lifestyle interventions to prevent cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer,” he said, “public health interventions to promote lifelong exercise have the potential to reduce the personal and social burden associated with these conditions in late adult years.”
The problem, he suggests, may be that exercise is often presented as an all-or-nothing option when that doesn’t have to be the case in reality. “Not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week,” he said, referring to the British government guideline amount of exercise for adults aged 19 through 64 years of age (Yes, there is really one government-suggested amount of exercise for a forty-five year span of time. It’s probably best not to dwell on that, however). “For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their cognitive well-being in the long-term and this is something that needs to be explored further. Setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more effective method for improving levels of exercise within the wider population.”
If you find yourself more concerned with the long-term mental benefits of exercise than the immediate physical gain, then Dr. Dregan believes that the kinds of exercise you enjoy may impact the levels of future clarity of thought; judging from information in the study group, it appears that intense levels of exercise and activity resulted in stronger mental agility in increased age compared with those who had enjoyed more moderate exercise while younger.