Can’t remember that bloke from that movie? It’s on the tip of your tongue, right?
Not only can mental blanks be annoying conversation killers, many of us see them as a sign of cognitive decline. But if you’re prone to panicked flicks through your mental rolodex when you try to recall the name of your cousin's wife or that actor who saved the world – just go with The Rock - scientists may have a solution for you.
A new study in Scientific Reports has found that maintaining higher levels of aerobic fitness as you age is linked to a lower incidence of what is known as ‘tip-of-the-tongue states’ as you get older.
In the study, 28 older men and women in their late 60s and 27 younger people in their early 20s were evaluated on a stationary bicycle to establish each person’s baseline aerobic fitness.
Participants were then asked to perform a series of computerised “definition filling tasks” to measure TOT-state frequency as well as identifying actors, musicians and politicians.
Not surprisingly older adults tended to experience more TOT moments than the younger ones, however, "the data show a relationship between aerobic fitness and word finding abilities in groups of healthy older adults”. This has nothing to do with vocabulary size or permanently forgetting a word, says study author Katrien Segaert. Instead, it appears that mental blanks are more linked to cognitive fluidity than an actual memory loss. Phew!
"Older adults sometimes worry that tip-of-the-tongue states indicate serious memory problems but this is a misconception: tip-of-the-tongue states are not associated with memory loss," Segaert says. "In fact, older adults usually have a much larger vocabulary than young adults. Instead, tip-of-the-tongue states occur when the meaning of a word is available in our memory, but the sound form of the word can temporarily not be accessed."
Why does exercise help recall? The researchers cite previous research that shows “tip-of-the-tongue states are associated with grey matter atrophy in the left insula and functional activation changes in linguistic... as well as extra-linguistic brain networks...”
Exercise keeps your brain fit basically. So, if you’re the kind of bloke who gets by calling people “old mate” or “champion” hit the track now. Trust us, future dinner party companions will be grateful.