Want a bigger brain? Get a better body.

If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied could thus have been kept active through use.
– Charles Darwin

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that even Charles Darwin worried about his big brain going to mush. If only poetry and music were enough… however, research suggests that a fit body may be the most direct route to a fit mind.

Sandra Aamodt, editor of Nature Neuroscience, and Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, argue that physical exercise improves something called ‘executive function’, a cluster of decision-related capacities, such as attention, planning, and problem-solving.

Although executive function typically declines with advancing years, “elderly people who have been athletic all their lives have much better executive function than sedentary people of the same age,” Dr. Aamodt and Dr. Wang reported.

And not just because cognitively healthy people tend to be more active. When inactive people in their 70s get more exercise, executive function improves, an analysis of 18 studies showed. Just walking fast for 30 to 60 minutes several times a week can help. And compared with those who are sedentary, people who exercise regularly in midlife are one-third as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in their 70s. Even those who start exercising in their 60s cut their risk of dementia in half.


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