Jeremy is a researcher in Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience in the School of Psychology. Here he describes his research in the area of exercise and how it effects ageing.
Previous studies show that exercise can ameliorate cognitive decline due to ageing. Our study seeks to extend these findings and improve upon their design. We have recruited and tested two groups:
1. “Supervets”, those engaging in aerobic exercise for at least 20 years, aged 60-85, and
2. Controls that are age-, IQ-, and education-matched and are socially active.
We are taking cognitive and physiological measures. Our hypotheses are that exercise in the “supervet” group will give physiological advantages relative to the control group; Exercise in the “supervet” group will improve cognition relative to the control group; and physiological measures will predict a participant’s cognitive performance.
Preliminary results: Participants in our two groups do not differ significantly in terms of gender, baseline cognitive state, depression level, and IQ. They do significantly differ, as intended, in mean physical activity during the average week. Physiologically, lung function measures show that the potential for fitness is both groups is the same. However the groups differ significantly in percent fat, Body Mass Index, resting heart rate, and hand grip (which are correlated with fitness). Cognitively, preliminary analysis of our first set of data indicate that “supervets” perform significantly better on tasks that require rapid decision making and switching between two tasks, suggesting an advantage in executive function.
Our results suggest that exercise may improve flexibility on executive tasks: tasks that are more complex, require a higher level of processing, and engage the frontal areas of the brain. With age, executive function usually declines; therefore exercise may be slowing down normal age-related decline in executive function.