The Link Between “Tip-of-the-Tongue State” and Cardio Training

More cardio may equal improved language skills.

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Mar 13, 2019

It might be time to motivate your senior clients to do more cardio. Evidence suggests that aerobic exercise can improve language skills by positively affecting brain regions associated with language processing. A recent study found that fitness and language skills are related, with cardiovascular fitness levels in healthy older adults directly linked to the ability to retrieve words hovering on the “tip of the tongue.”

Cardiovascular fitness in healthy older adults is also associated with less decline in blood circulation and structural integrity in the brain, particularly in the frontal and temporal regions. Knowing that language processing is primarily associated with activation of these brain regions, University of Birmingham, England, researchers set out to explore whether the skill is related to cardiovascular health.

They conducted the study with 28 healthy older adults—20 women with an average age of 70 and eight men with an average age of 67. All subjects participated in aerobic fitness testing and a tip-of-the-tongue experiment. Tip-of-the-tongue state occurs when you’re trying to retrieve a word and feel as if you know it, but you can’t immediately recall it. “What we found was that the degree of decline is related to one’s aerobic fitness,” said lead study author Katrien Segaert, PhD. “In our study, the higher the older adults’ aerobic fitness level, the lower the probability of experiencing a tip-of-the-tongue state. There are a lot of existing findings on the benefits of cardiovascular fitness and regular exercise, and our research demonstrates another side of the benefits, namely a relationship between fitness and language skills. We were able to show, for the first time, that the benefits . . . extend to the domain of language.”

Study authors encourage promoting increased physical activity for healthy aging and optimal brain function across the lifespan. The study appeared in Scientific Reports (2018; 8 [6715]).

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

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