Masters athletes complain about aches and pain just as much as anyone else. Maybe more. They may complain more because they tend to hurt themselves fairly often. Masters athletes can be surprisingly competitive about who hurt what more. Let’s be honest though, being competitive about pain is better than being depressed about it. As we wonder about what is happening to our bodies its nice to hear some good news now and then, along with a little assurance that we are doing ourselves at least a little good.
Latest research on the benefits of life-long exercise on cognitive function (or “thinking” for those who prefer simpler terms.)
Most scientific journals publish on the first of the month. This is when new research becomes available to the public. Today’s post is about a new study published in the journal Neurolimage. Researchers at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center report on brain structural differences between masters athletes and sedentary older adults. This is not the same thing as functional differences. However, structural changes in the brain during adulthood are just about never good news. Unfortunately the brain changes as we age . . . and generally not for the better. The masters athletes in the study were aerobically trained (runners not weightlifters) and ranged in age from 61 to 80. Brains of masters athletes showed high white matter microstructural integrity than did the brains of sedentary people. The brain contains white matter and grey matter. Both are important. However, white matter contains heavily myelinated neurons that transmit information to other neurons. Healthy white matter is needed for the brain to function as a unit so you can find your keys and glasses and remember why you wanted them. The white matter in masters athletes was specifically “healthier” in brain areas responsible for memory and for motor function. Everyone appreciates memory. Or at least misses it. Masters athletes may be more attuned to changes in perception and coordination (motor function).
What else is new about life-long aerobic fitness and brain function?
Masters athletes also had less “white matter hyperintensities”. These white matter hyperintensities are thought to be demyelinated white matter (messed up brain matter). They are associated with increased risk of stroke and dementia. Not having them is a good thing. Research continues to show that physical fitness is important for brain function. Even just a few months of aerobic exercise can increase brain volume and improve cognitive function. Anaerobic exercise like weight lifting may help too. There just hasn’t been as much study of weightlifters and cognitive function. For those of us who are CrossFit athletes: Crossfit may also help maintain brain fitness, but its too early to tell.
Tseng BY, Gundapuneedi T, Khan MA, Diaz-Arrastia R, Levine BD, Lu H, Huang H, & Zhang R (2013). White matter integrity in physically fit older adults. NeuroImage, 82, 510-6 PMID: 23769914
Debette S, & Markus HS (2010). The clinical importance of white matter hyperintensities on brain magnetic resonance imaging: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 341 PMID: 20660506