Exercise May Improve Thinking Skills in People as Young as 20

thinking skills
Exercise May Improve Thinking Skills in People as Young as 20

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling or climbing stairs may improve thinking skills not only in older people but in young people as well, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology. The study also found that the positive effect may increase as people age.

The specific set of skills that improved with exercise is called executive function. Executive function is a person’s ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals.

“As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline,” said study author Yaakov Stern, PhD, of Columbia University in New York, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer of their brain.”

The study involved 132 people between the ages of 20 and 67 who did not smoke or have dementia but who also did not exercise at the start of the study and were determined to have below average fitness levels. Participants were randomly assigned to six months of either aerobic exercise or stretching and toning four times a week. The two groups were equally balanced for age, sex, education as well as memory and thinking skills at the start of the study.

All participants either exercised or stretched and toned at a fitness center and checked in weekly with coaches monitoring their progress. They all wore heart rate monitors as well. Participants’ thinking and memory skills were evaluated at the start of the study as well as at three months and at the end of the six-month study.

Participants in the exercise group chose from aerobic activities including walking on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike or using an elliptical machine. They ramped up their activity during the first month, then during the remainder of the six-month study they trained at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate. People in the stretching and toning group did exercises to promote flexibility and core strength.

Researchers measured participants’ aerobic capacity using a cycling machine called an ergometer that estimates exercise intensity. Participants also had MRI brain scans at the start and end of the study.

Researchers found that aerobic exercise increased thinking skills. From the beginning of the study to the end, those who did aerobic exercise improved their overall scores on executive function tests by 0.50 points, which was a statistically significant difference from those who did stretching and toning, who improved by 0.25 points. At age 40, the improvement in thinking skills was 0.228 standard deviation units higher in those who exercised compared to those who did stretching and toning and at age 60, it was 0.596 standard deviation units higher.

“Since a difference of 0.5 standard deviations is equivalent to 20 years of age-related difference in performance on these tests, the people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60,” Stern said.

He added, “Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline.”

Researchers also found an increase in the thickness of the outer layer of the brain in the left frontal area in all those who exercised, suggesting that aerobic exercise contributes to brain fitness at all ages.

“Our research confirms that exercise can be beneficial to adults of any age,” said Stern.

The Caring Company-Harvard’s Landmark Study on Caregiving in the Workforce

Harvard’s Landmark Study on Caregiving in the Workforce

I wanted to call your attention to a groundbreaking study by Harvard that was recently published called The Caring Company – How employers can help employees manage their caregiving responsibilities—while reducing costs and increasing productivity.

The study is here – https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/The%20Caring%20Company%20-%2001.17.19.pdf and an article by Howard Gleckman of the Urban Institute can be found in Forbes here – https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardgleckman/2019/01/16/employers-are-clueless-when-it-comes-to-family-caregiving/#36d97e7f3bcb

The study offers a sobering view of caregiving in the workforce and particularly couches it as a talent drain, reporting that 32% of all employees had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities and the vast majority were employees in senior management roles with men actually outnumbering women. A third of employees who left a position reported taking care of an elder with daily living needs as a reason for leaving their job.

More than half of the companies surveyed don’t even try to measure the effects of caregiving on their employees. Thus they have no idea how much time caregiving takes, or of the emotional or physical burden it places on their staffs. This “employer indifference” as Harvard refers to it not only hurts workers, but firms pay a price as well in excessive turnover, high rates of absenteeism, and wasted dollars on poorly designed benefits.

By not offering benefits that employees actually want—and by not encouraging employees to use the benefits they do offer—companies incur millions of dollars of hidden costs due to turnover, loss of institutional knowledge, temporary hiring, in addition to substantial productivity costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism.

The study concludes that In a “caring company,” management will have to demonstrate commitment both by acknowledging its employees’ care concerns and by investing in innovative solutions. The era of employers’ indifference as to how their employees strike a balance between their personal and professional lives is ending.

They encouraged companies to add additional benefits that address unmet needs on an experimental or permanent basis; while customizing care benefits by adding those that are meaningful to employees.

Our suite of caregiving services – https://gishc.com/caregiver and https://www.benetechsus.com/family-privacy-and-care/care-gard meet the unmet needs of the caregiving employee. As a company cited as a benckmark in the industry for caring for employee caregivers, I believe we have a set of solutions that can enhance that commitment even more.

P.S. You might be interested in this NYTimes piece – http://ow.ly/QyX830npj3W – on readmissions. The One Page Helpers offered in our platform are ideal discharge planning tools that can assist both patients and the public.


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