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).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Brain image from Shutterstock