We've all faced this embarrassing problem. You're in the middle of a conversation and you stop. The word you want is just out of reach, on the tip of your tongue.
It's not only a nuisance, but a sign of aging.
And while it doesn't correlate with memory loss, losing verbal abilities makes aging more difficult. Maybe you've experienced the feeling of forgetting a word in the middle of a difficult situation with someone like your lawyer, your financial planner, or your doctor.
What if I told you that you can stop these "tip-of-the-tongue" moments with a simple fix? It's a solution that anyone can do, and it also helps ward off dementia, strengthens your bones, and keeps your heart healthy.
It might sound like a miracle cure-all.
I'm talking about exercise.
In particular, I'm talking about a brand-new study out of the University of Birmingham in the U.K. Researchers took a small group of healthy folks – half in their late 60s and early 70s and half in their early 20s. They took tests to name famous people in the U.K. as well as give words based on their definitions. Then the participants all took a cycling test to measure their cardiovascular fitness.
What they found in older adults was that the higher the fitness level, the lower the incidence of these tip-of-the-tongue states.
Several prior studies focused on cognition and exercise, but this is the first to study it through the use of language. That's a more useful measure, because language usage has strong ties to important brain functions like working memory and overall brain processing.
It also builds on previous research that proves exercise helps protect our brains as we age. The more fit we are, the more gray matter we keep safe. Gray matter, remember, is the clusters of nerve cells within our brain. What's more, exercise also protects our white matter. That's the part of our nerves that stretch out and transmit electrical signals.
Another study a few weeks ago even tied exercise to dementia. It was a long study out of Sweden, extending for about 44 years. They classified women by cardiovascular fitness. Those in the highest fitness group decreased their risk for dementia by about 88%, compared to the moderately fit women. And those who did develop dementia got it much later in life if they had higher fitness levels.
There are many reasons exercise keeps our brains healthy. It fights inflammation, which we know contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. But exercise also improves our sleep... and that is crucial for our brain's health.
That's because sleep triggers a system in our brains to turn on. It's the glymphatic system. This system basically acts as a garbage disposal. All kinds of waste products – things like spent proteins and other debris – collect in our brains as a normal part of functioning. But if they start building up, they interfere with our brain's processing and lead to things like Alzheimer's.
But research a few years ago found that a network of vessels empty this waste... but it happens when we sleep. This is why getting a good night's sleep is so important to preserving our brain cells.
I'm bringing up this discovery because of one final important argument for exercise...
Exercise appears to boost the functioning of our glymphatic system.
In other words, there's some evidence just coming out that exercise stimulates our brains to turn on this garbage disposal system. That means it clears out all that debris and may help prevent Alzheimer's. Now, this is still a new field of research, but we're excited to see what develops. We'll keep you updated on the latest.
If you haven't started a regular exercise program yet, now is the time for it. May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month (what the government programs call "#MoveInMay"), so keep your eyes out for new opportunities. That includes gym discounts, new classes at local senior centers or community colleges, or simply getting friends together to walk or jog in the warmer weather. Get moving today... Your brain will thank you.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: If you went to this university, get your eyes checked.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 3, 2018