Physical fitness increases multitasking skills by increasing the size of crucial areas of the brain, a new study finds.
Neuroscientists found larger gray matter volume in several brain areas of those who had higher cardiorespiratory fitness.
These brain areas help boost both reasoning and problem-solving.
The study gave 128 older adults a so-called ‘dual-task’ test.
This is similar to testing people’s ability to ‘multitask’ — something men and women both find difficult.
Ms Chelsea Wong, the study’s first author, explained:
“The reason we looked at dual-task specifically is because it’s a measure of executive function, which is required for multiple cognitive processes, such as working memory, task management, coordination, and inhibition.
We know that as people age, executive function declines, so we found that with higher cardiorespiratory fitness, you can enhance executive function performance behaviorally as well as executive function-related brain activation.”
Brain scans revealed that fitter people had larger volumes in the anterior cingulate cortex and the supplementary motor area (ACC/SMA).
Ms Wong explained its significance:
“It’s an important area for higher level functions, such as conflict monitoring, multitasking, and dual-task processing itself.”
Professor Art Kramer, an expert on brain aging and neuroplasticity who led the study, said:
“This research adds to our growing understanding of the relationship among physical activity and cognitive and brain function–and suggests that we can improve our brain health by changing our lifestyle even as we age.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience (Wong et al., 2015).
Brain image from Shutterstock