Breathe Deep to Keep Your Smarts

Lung health and brain function related

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You may be looking for ways to avoid losing some of your sharpness as you get older. One surprising technique to keep your brain in better shape involves your lungs.

New research indicates that, as they age, people with poor lung health can lose some mental abilities more quickly than those with good lung health.

These researchers are saying that keeping healthy may also improve your thinking capacity.

"Exercise to keep your lungs healthy."

Charles F. Emery, PhD, professor in the Departments of Psychology and Internal Medicine and Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University, and colleagues led the study to evaluate whether changes in lung health might lead to changes in brain function over time.

The researchers collected data for this study from a large scale aging study conducted in Sweden.

Information from 832 participants between the ages 50 and 85 was used. Of the group total, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men.

Each participant was assessed up to seven times during the 19 years of the study period, including tests for their lung health and thinking skills.

The pulmonary tests measured lung function in two ways. The first was forced expiratory volume, or how much air a person can push out of the lungs in one second.

The second test looked at forced vital capacity, the volume of air that is blown out after a deep inhalation.

Cognitive tests measured how well participants did on memory tests, word tests, and tests to determine spatial abilities related to problem-solving and processing speed, like how quickly they could write correct responses to test questions.

The researchers’ analysis indicated that as participants’ lung health deteriorated over time, some of their brain functions also declined at a faster rate than those without decreased lung capacity.

Participants with declining pulmonary capabilities had greater difficulties with problem-solving and processing speed. Some also had lower performance with the verbal tests.

Poorer lung health wasn’t associated with memory loss. And brain function declines weren’t shown to decrease lung health.

"The logical conclusion from this is that anything you could do to maintain lung function should be of benefit to fluid cognitive performance as well," said Dr. Emery.

"Maintaining an exercise routine and stopping smoking would be two primary methods. Nutritional factors and minimizing environmental exposure to pollutants also come into play," he said.

The study was published online August 3 in the journal Psychological Science.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging, the Swedish Council for Social Research and the Swedish Research Council.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 22, 2012
Last Updated:
April 26, 2013