Group exercise activities might help improve older adults' mental ability

A study on the effects of exercise on the wiring and function of older adults’ brains by researchers from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health and with ties to the University of Illinois appeared in the New York Times on March 29, after originally being published in the March edition of Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

The study tested the aerobic fitness and mental capacities of 174 healthy people in their 60s and 70s, then divided them into groups. The groups were assigned different exercise regimens – one participated in a program of brisk walking, one did a gentle stretching and balance training routine, and another learned to dance.

After six months, the volunteers repeated the tests and brain scans from the study’s start, and researchers found that the dancers had denser white matter – the brain’s wiring – in a part of the brain involved with processing speed and memory, suggesting that activities that involve movement and socialization could improve mental ability in aging brains.

Agnieszka Burzynska, a professor of human development and neuroscience at Colorado State University and former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, served as lead author on the study, which involved KCH professor emeritus Edward McAuley and graduate students Jason Fanning and Elizabeth Awick, along with researchers from the Beckman Institute, the University of Iowa, Wayne State University and Northeastern University.

Eddie McCauley, Jason Fanning, Elizabeth Awick

Clockwise from top: Professor Emeritus Eddie McCauley, Elizabeth Awick, Jason Fanning