Older adults who exercise for 6 months have healthier brains

Another study has proven how exercise can be beneficial to one’s health. The study, published in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice, has found that older adults who exercise for at least 52 hours over the course of about six months have healthier brains.

“Given the limited effectiveness of available treatments for dementia, promotion of a healthy brain is relevant,” suggested the researchers.

For the study, the researchers systematically reviewed 98 randomized controlled trials with over 11,000 participants in total and with the average age of 73. More than half or 59 percent of the participants were regarded as healthy adults, 26 percent had mild cognitive problems, and 15 percent had dementia.

They aimed to identify the extent and duration of exercise that enhances the cognitive performance in older adults. The trials tested the thinking and memory skills of the participants who joined an exercise program for a minimum of four weeks compared to those who did not. The length of an exercise session, intensity, weekly frequency, and amount of exercise over time were recorded.

Fifty-eight percent of the participants did not exercise regularly prior to enrolling in a study. The most common exercises performed by the participants included aerobic exercises, such as walking, biking, and dancing. Other physical activities included a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training, and strength training with mind-body exercises, such as yoga and tai chi.

Based on the results, long-term exercise or a minimum of 52 hours of exercise (an hour for every session) over an average of six months enhanced the brain’s processing speed in healthy participants and those with cognitive problems. It also boosted the executive function of the healthy participants.

Although no amount of exercise enhanced memory skills, thinking skills were improved by long-term exercise. Moreover, even people who participated in lower intensity exercise programs showed an improvement in their thinking skills.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that a longer-term exercise program may be needed to improve one’s thinking skills. (Related: Regular exercise increases brain volume, protects against age-related dementia.)

Brain exercises for older adults

Another way to make the brain healthier, in addition to physical exercises, is to engage in brain exercises. Adults who often engage in mentally stimulating activities have 63 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to those who rarely engage in such activities, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Another study, conducted by the University of Michigan, revealed that adults who play a mentally-challenging game each day for several weeks can significantly boost their memory.

Most of the common age-related declines in memory or motor skills are caused by inactivity and a lack of mental exercise and stimulation. Thus, memory and motor skills can be preserved with mental exercises and stimulation. Here are some steps you can do:

  • Exercise your senses daily – You can give your senses an everyday workout by combining two sense-related activity, such as listening to music and smelling flowers, listening to the rain and tapping your fingers, or watching the clouds and playing with modeling clay at the same time.
  • Play brain games – With brain games, such as crossword puzzle or Sudoku, you can have fun and challenge your mind simultaneously.
  • Break a routine – Breaking a routine can help exercise your mental muscle. For example, try a new route going to work instead of going to your usual route. Do activities that will force you to think differently.
  • Try something new – Older adults can stimulate their brains with new experiences. Try something new like taking up dance or art classes or visiting new places such as museums, restaurants, or new cities.

Read more news stories and studies on keeping the brain healthier by going to Brain.news.

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