Researchers suggest in a new study that there could be a connection between brain activation, cardiorespiratory fitness, and executive function in older adults.

The study, from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois also suggests that dual-task processing in a core executive function brain region is associated with higher cardiorespiratory fitness and dual-task performance, according to a release from Beckman Institute.

The study was published recently in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

The release explains that the research team, led by Art Kramer, Beckman Institute director and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Illinois, examined brain imaging and fitness level data from 128 adults between the ages of 59 and 80.

After looking at the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans from the study participants, the team found that certain regions of the brain were activated more when performing two simultaneous tasks compared to a single task.

The overall relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness levels and higher executive function may be partially explained through activation in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex and the supplementary motor area (ACC/SMA), per the release.

“We analyzed areas of the brain that were activated while the participants were completing two tasks, and found that the ACC/SMA activation was associated with higher cardiorespiratory fitness,” says Chelsea Wong, a MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and the study’s first author, in the release.

“It’s an important area for higher level functions, such as conflict monitoring, multitasking, and dual-task processing itself,” she adds.

“This research adds to our growing understanding of the relationship among physical activity and cognitive and brain function-and suggests that we can improve our brain health by changing our lifestyle even as we age,” Kramer says in the release.

[Source: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology]