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Age-related Shift in Neural Complexity Related to Task Performance and Physical Activity

Heisz JJ, Gould M, and McIntosh AR (2015) Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 27(3) 605-613 

Web URL: Read more on the Journal website here


The human brain undergoes marked structural changes with age including cortical thinning and reduced connectivity because of the degradation of myelin.
Although these changes can compromise cognitive function, the brain is able to functionally reorganize to compensate for some of this structural loss.
However, there are interesting individual differences in outcome: When comparing individuals of similar age, those who engage in regular physical activity are less affected by the typical age-related decline in cognitive function.

This study used multiscale entropy to reveal a shift in the way the brain processes information in older adults that is related to physical activity.
Specifically, older adults who were more physically active engaged in more local neural information processing.
Interestingly, this shift toward local information processing was also associated with improved executive function performance in older adults, suggesting that physical activity may help to improve aspects of cognitive function in older adults by biasing the neural system toward local information processing.
In the face of age-related structural decline, the neural plasticity that is enhanced through physical activity may help older adults maintain cognitive health longer into their lifespan.