It may be possible for doctors someday to determine physical fitness by imaging the brain. Individuals who are physically fit have larger brain volumes and more composed white matter. A new study in the journal PLOS ONE states that older adults who engage in moderate to intense physical activity on a regular basis exhibit more variable brain activity. This variability is linked to superior cognitive performance.

Studying The Brain To Form A Conclusion

Postdoctoral lead researcher Agnieszka Burzynska from the University of Illinois, along with Art Kramer, Director of Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, observed 100 adults between the ages of 60 and 80. Their physical activity was measured objectively using accelerometers, over a period of one week.

Functional MRI (fMRI) was used to assess how blood oxygen levels changed in the brain with time. This reflected the individual’s brain activity while at rest. Also, the microscopic integrity of white matter fibers which interconnect the brain and transmit nerve impulses was evaluated.

Researchers found that spontaneous brain activity exhibited higher moment-to-moment fluctuations in adults that were more active. In a previous study, they had demonstrated that in certain similar areas of the brain, people with higher variability were better at performing complex cognitive tasks involving intelligence and memory.

Results of the fMRI revealed that, on average, physically active older adults had improved white matter structure as compared to less-active participants, thus suggesting getting old could mean not being scared about your mental health.

Learning From The Findings: How To Stop Getting old

Kramer stated that the study, when observed in light of previous studies examining behavioral variability in cognitive tasks, highlights that physically active older adults are more mentally variable and flexible in terms of cognition and brain function. According to Burzynska, these findings suggest another novel way to measure brain health while getting old.

“Instead of a structural measure, we are taking a functional measure of brain health. And we are finding that tracking changes in blood-oxygenation levels over time is useful for predicting cognitive functioning and physical health in aging”, Burzynska concluded.