A healthy lifestyle is attributed to better physical well-being, but how does fitness affect mental wellness? A new study from researchers at the University of Aberdeen suggests that living a healthier lifestyle could also increase the brain’s executive function, or the capacity of the mind to exert self-control, set and meet goals, resist temptation, and solve problems.

Findings also suggest that this connection is a feedback loop, meaning that greater executive function enables people to lead a healthier lifestyle, which in turn, improves their executive function.

Researchers examined data collected from 4,555 adults through the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, according to a press release. The team analyzed the relationship between physical activity and executive function. Participants’ age, gender, education, wealth and illness were also taken into consideration.

"It seems that physical activity and EF are synergistic — they improve one another," according to the study.

The study focused on physical activity’s relationship with executive function, but it’s likely that the same increased positive mental feedback loop is linked to eating nutritious foods, too.

Researcher Dr. Julia Allan suggested in the release that "people who make a change to their health behavior, like participating in physical activity, eating less processed food, or consuming more fruits and vegetables, can see an improvement in their brain function over time and increase their chances of remaining healthy as they age."

The study also suggests that the brain’s executive function is likely to decline naturally with age.

Source: Allan JL, McMinn D, Daley M. A Bidirectional Relationship between Executive Function and Health Behavior: Evidence, Implications, and Future Directions. Frontiers. 2016.

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