Get active to keep your brain moving: Study finds that doing regular exercise helps older people boost their mental agility and is particularly important for those at risk of Alzheimer’s
- Exercising four days per week increased blood flow to the brain in volunteers
- Volunteers had an average age of 66 with no history of heart or memory issues
- Researchers say they performed better on memory and thinking tests after six months of performing regular aerobic exercise in supervised settings
Getting up and exercising in older age can help boost brain health and is particularly important for people at risk of Alzheimer’s, a new study found.
Researchers from the University of Calgary say older adults perform better on thinking and memory tests after just six months of aerobic exercise.
The study involved 206 adults who prior to starting the six-month exercise intervention worked out no more than four days per week at a moderate intensity or two days per week at a high intensity.
The volunteers had an average age of 66 and no history of heart or memory problems and were given thinking and memory tests before and after the exercise.
The study involved 206 adults who prior to starting the six-month exercise intervention worked out no more than four days per week at a moderate intensity or two days per week at a high intensity. Stock image
Participants involved in the Canadian study were enrolled in a supervised aerobic exercise program held three days a week.
As they progressed through the program, they increased their workout from an average of 20 minutes a day to an average of at least 40 minutes.
In addition, people were asked to work out on their own once a week and not just during the supervised session.
Researchers found that after six months of exercise, participants improved by 5.7 per cent on tests of executive function, which includes mental flexibility.
Verbal fluency, which tests how quickly you can retrieve information, increased by 2.4 per cent after six months of exercise.
Study author Dr Marc Poulin said the boost in verbal skills was similar to that seen in someone five years younger.
Before and after six months of aerobic activity, the participants’ average peak blood flow to the brain was measured using ultrasound.
Physical testing was repeated at three months, and thinking and physical testing repeated at the end of the six months.
Blood flow rose from an average of 51.3 cm per second (20.2 inches/sec) to an average of 52.7 cm/sec (20.7 inches/sec), a 2.8 per cent increase.
The increase in blood flow was associated with a number of modest but significant improvements in aspects of thinking that usually decline as we age, Poulin said.
‘Our study showed that six months’ worth of vigorous exercise may pump blood to regions of the brain that specifically improve your verbal skills as well as memory and mental sharpness,’ said Poulin.
‘At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal ageing, to have these types of increases is exciting.
‘As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense.’
Participants involved in the Canadian study were enrolled in a supervised aerobic exercise program held three days a week. Stock image
He said aerobic exercise gets blood moving through the body and seems to also get it moving to the brain – particularly areas of verbal fluency and executive function.
‘Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease,’ the lead author said.
The researchers said the study was limited because volunteers doing the exercise were not compared to a similar group of people who were not exercising.
They say this means the results may have been due to other factors, although the they tried to control for this by testing participants twice over six months.
In addition, some of the exercise was unsupervised, so the amount reported may be unreliable – they may have lied about what work they’d actually completed.
The findings are published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
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