My partner and I are pretty fit for our respective ages. We work out. I swim every day and when my knees permit, play tennis. I love to go for walks. My partner hits the gym on a daily basis and plays tennis several times per week. He loves to go for walks, too. Plus, we ride our bikes (weather permitting) and generally try to keep ourselves in tip top shape.
We’ve frequently reported on the research which informs us that exercise keeps our brains healthy. To oversimplify considerably, it’s about blood flow to the brain which leads to the growth of new neurons. But you know that, and so do we. That’s why we stay active!
Plus, we’ve read enough literature about ageing that proves physically active people are about 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. All of which is confirmed by the Ontario Brain Institute, based on their most recent research findings. We want to stay active because we know it’s good for us.
But wait, here’s some more interesting information…
Introducing Matthieu Boisgontier
Along comes a French neuroscientist called Matthieu Boisgontier, a recent addition to University of Ottawa’s health research team. And guess what? Monsieur Boisgontier thinks we may have got the healthy body/healthy mind proposition back-to-front.
In 2018, Matthieu Boisgontier and a colleague from the University of Geneva, Boris Cheval, used EEG brain imaging to explore one of the great riddles of public health: why people fail to exercise regularly even when they know how beneficial it would be.
Boisgontier and Cheval flashed images of people exercising or lounging in hammocks. The test showed that it takes considerable extra neural effort to resist the lure of being sedentary. In other words, we’re born to be lazy.
Let’s Look at the Data
Boisgontier and Cheval’s research stated:
Based on those findings, they began to wonder whether declining cognitive function might be a cause, rather than just a consequence, of age-related declines in physical activity.
To test this hypothesis, they analysed data from more than 100,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 in 21 European countries, each of whom had completed cognitive assessments and reported their physical activity levels five times over a 12-year period:
- Those with the lowest scores on the cognitive test also tended to get the least exercise. But the scores changed over time.
- Declines in cognitive function generally preceded declines in physical activity. This suggests that the former contributed to the latter.
The research suggests that physical and cognitive decline is part of a circle that can be either positive or negative. We can’t necessarily conclude that working out less will lead to a decline in cognitive capacity. But there is no doubt that our brains are innately attracted to sedentary behaviour.
We Know What’s Good for Us—and Yet
None of this refutes the fact that exercise is good for the brain. It is. So, keep jogging, swimming and doing those push-ups or whatever else you love to do.
But if you are pathologically opposed to sports of any kind, don’t reconcile yourself to a life of diminishing cognitive capacity. Do other things.
Be sociable. Read books. Do puzzles. Play cards. Cook. Learn a new language. Take up a hobby that involves mental challenges. Engage in strategy games such as checkers and chess. Whatever it is that keeps your mind active. Consider it an investment in yourself!