back to news Oct. 8, 2012

Strong Lungs Key to Healthy Mind

Charles Emery, professor of psychology, and an investigator in Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, is lead author of a new study linking the ability to breathe well with warding off cognitive decline. Keeping the lungs healthy could be an important way to retain thinking functions that relate to problem-solving and processing speed in one’s later years, according to Emery and fellow authors Deborah Finkel of Indiana University Southeast and Nancy Pedersen of the Karolinska Institute and the University of Southern California.

Emery and his team of researchers tracked changes in both pulmonary function and cognitive function in 832 people ages 50-85 for nearly two decades. They found that as people’s lung function deteriorated, so did their ability to perform well on cognitive tests.

Two types of brain function were particularly affected by declining lung function: spatial comprehension (the type of problem-solving used to figure out how puzzle pieces relate to one another, for example) and processing speed (such as being asked to figure out a problem and write down the answer). Verbal ability also was impaired as lung function decreased.

“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 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.”

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Read the entire press release, courtesy of Emily Caldwell, assistant director of research and innovation, Ohio State Research and Innovation Communications.