Living a healthy lifestyle will likely help you live longer. But new research suggests living a healthier lifestyle could also increase executive function, which is the ability to exert self-control, set and meet goals, resist temptation, and solve problems.
If you stop and think about it, it makes sense. Resisting donuts and opting for kale, after all, takes a fair amount of self-control – as does getting up early to exercise.
Over time, suggests researchers, these behaviors reinforce one another in a sort of positive feedback loop.
Using data collected from 4,555 adults through the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, researchers analyzed the relationship between physical activity and executive function, adjusting for other variables such as age, gender, education, wealth and illness, and found evidence that the relationship between the two is bidirectional (Allan et al., 2016).
Specifically, individuals with poor executive function showed subsequent decreases in their rates of participation in physical activity and older adults who engaged in sports and other physical activities tended to retain high levels of executive function over time (Allen et al., 2016).
While this study focused on physical activity and its relationship to executive function, the researchers noted that a positive feedback loop between executive function and eating nutritious foods is quite plausible. Similarly, it is likely that negative feedback loops also exist, where unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or drinking too much alcohol will be both a result of and a predictor of declining executive function (Allan et al., 2016).
This might help explain why executive function typically declines with age, as older people may become more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like remaining sedentary and less likely to maintain healthy but effortful behaviors like taking prescribed medication regularly.
The up side, however, is that the longer one can maintain high executive function, the longer and more easily that person can stave off behavior that will be detrimental to their health. Dr. Julia Allan explains, “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” (Allan, 2016).
With the world’s population of elderly folks to hit 1.5 billion by 2050, the connection between executive function – and specifically how it is mediated by and helps to mediate our health – could have major implications.
Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:
Executive Functioning in Adults is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides strategies to help adults overcome executive functioning deficits.
As human beings, we have a built-in capacity to accomplish goals and meet challenges through the use of high-level cognitive functions called “executive functioning” skills. These are the skills that help us to decide which activities and tasks we will pay attention to and which ones we will choose to ignore or postpone.
Executive skills allow us to organize our thinking and behavior over extended periods of time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. These skills are critical in planning and organizing activities, sustaining attention, and persisting until a task is completed. Individuals who do not have well developed executive functioning skills tend to have difficulty starting and attending to tasks, redirecting themselves when a plan is not working, and exercising emotional control and flexibility. This course offers a wide variety of strategies to help adults overcome such difficulties and function more effectively. Course #31-08 | 2018 | 61 pages | 20 posttest questions
Executive Functioning: Teaching Children Organizational Skills is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that will enumerate and illustrate multiple strategies and tools for helping children overcome executive functioning deficits and improve their self-esteem and organizational abilities.
Executive functioning skills represent a key set of mental assets that help connect past experience with present action. They are fundamental to performing activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Conversely, executive functioning deficits can significantly disrupt an individual’s ability to perform even simple tasks effectively. Although children with executive functioning difficulties may be at a disadvantage at home and at school, adults can employ many different strategies to help them succeed. Included are techniques for planning and prioritizing, managing emotions, improving communication, developing stress tolerance, building time management skills, increasing sustained attention, and boosting working memory. Course #40-42 | 2017 | 76 pages | 25 posttest questions
Alzheimer’s Disease: A Practical Guide is a 3-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that offers healthcare professionals a basic foundation in Alzheimer’s disease prevention, diagnosis, and risk management.
This course will present practical information to aid healthcare professionals as they interact with clients who are diagnosed with any of the many types of dementia. We will review what is normal in the aging process, and what is not; diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease; testing cognition and gene testing; risk factors; and clinical research. We will then discuss the struggle caregivers face and provide strategies for how best to support them.
The next section will provide practical guidance for caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, including daily care activities, keeping the person safe, and unwanted behaviors. Next we will review prevention and compensation strategies to help people protect their cognitive health as they age, including modifiable risk factors that have the potential to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. A final section on protecting our elders from scams and how to find reputable resources for information is included. Course #31-12 | 2018 | 56 pages | 20 posttest questions
Our online courses provide instant access to the course materials and CE test. Successful completion of the online CE test (80% required to pass, 3 chances to take) and course evaluation are required to earn a certificate of completion. Click here to learn more. Have a question? Contact us. We’re here to help!
Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).
Target Audience: Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapist (MFTs), Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), School Psychologists, and Teachers
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