How Aerobic Classes Can Make You a Better Problem Solver

If you’re looking for a way to improve your problem-solving skills and other executive functions, there’s a simple activity to try: aerobic exercise.
Exercise has been known to improve cognitive function in older adults, but a new study finds it does the same in young and middle-aged adults as well.
Researchers from Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons set out to explore the effects of exercise on 132 adults between the ages of 20 and 67. They found those who were more active appeared to have improved executive function.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Neurology today.
Previous research has focused mostly on exercise and brain function in older adults, so there wasn’t much information on how it could affect the brain function of younger people.Namely, exercise boosts executive function, which involves reasoning, problem-solving, and planning, the researchers found. The effects were stronger in study participants who were older.
“Executive functioning is necessary for us to do things like adequately manage our finances and make healthcare-related decisions and complex activities, like driving and reacting appropriately in an emergency,” explained Joyce Gomes-Osman, PhD, an assistant professor in physical therapy and neurology and director of the Neuromotor Plasticity Laboratory at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She wasn’t involved with the study.
What did the study find?
As part of the experiment, 132 people with below-average aerobic capacity were assigned into two groups. One group performed aerobics, and the other group did stretching and core-strengthening exercises.
The study participants were tested for executive function, processing speed, language, attention, and episodic memory before the start of the study and again at 12 weeks and 24 weeks.
They worked out four times a week. Those in the aerobics group did a variety of exercises and were required to reach their target heart rates.There was a significant improvement in executive function in those who were in the aerobics group. But across all ages, the greater the age, the better the improvement, the researchers discovered.
Working out after 30
Since our executive function typically peaks around the time we’re 30, experts point out that taking up aerobic exercise may help mitigate aging-related mental decline.
Yaakov Stern, PhD, study author and chief of cognitive neuroscience in the department of neurology and a faculty member in the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University, said in a statement that the workouts may help people regain some cognitive function they may have lost.