Scientists have determined the evidence-based exercises that help keep the brain young.
A comprehensive scientific review of 98 studies, published in Neurology Clinical Practice, assessed the relationship between positive outcomes for cognition and various forms of exercise. The controlled trials altogether involved 11,061 seniors with an average age of 73. 59% of the subjects were healthy, 26% had mild cognitive impairment, and 15% had dementia. 68% were female, and 58% did not exercise regularly prior to enrollment.
The summarized findings confirmed that physical activity can delay cognitive decline in old age. The researchers went on to pinpoint which exercises have been the most effective so far in keeping the brain healthier for longer.
The evidence identified aerobic exercise (like walking, biking, or dancing), strength or resistance training, mind-body exercise (such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong), and a combination of these as beneficial to cognitive function. Walking was the most commonly studied aerobic exercise, exhibiting how gentle workouts can be just as advantageous for the elderly.
“It’s encouraging to know that you don’t need to be running. If you start walking, you’re going to get benefit. But this is not window-shopping; this is walking. It’s physical exercise, not just physical activity,” study author Joyce Gomes-Osman, PT, PhD, told Medpage Today.
The neurologists also discovered that around 52 hours over a span of six months was linked to improved brain processing speed in elderly individuals who were either healthy or impaired. The same amount of exercise helped healthy adults with their attention span, executive function, time management, and ability to achieve goals.
In addition, those who only exercised for an average of 34 hours over the same period of six months did not show any improvement. The researchers also did not find a link between amount of exercise and memory skills.
Since most participants joined the clinical trials without regular exercise, the findings support the association between improving brain health and decreasing sedentary behavior. Exercise interventions enhance neural recruitment which may compensate for age-related mental decline and increase cognitive reserve (the mind’s resistance to damage).
“These results suggest that a longer-term exercise program may be necessary to gain the benefits in thinking skills,” said Gomes-Osman in a press release by the American Academy of Neurology. “We were excited to see that even people who participated in lower intensity exercise programs showed a benefit to their thinking skills. Not everyone has the endurance or motivation to start a moderately intense exercise program, but everyone can benefit even from a less intense plan.”
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