Aerobic exercise can improve memory in older age

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Aerobic exercise is any activity that gets your blood pumping and large muscle groups working. We all know there are a whole host of benefits that come along with it, and now a new study says it can help boost memory too.

According to scientists, the brain starts losing tissue from age 30 onwards. This study from The Journals of Gerontology shows that aerobic exercise may slow this loss and improve cognitive performance.

To test this theory, 55 older adults submitted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans for evaluation. The participants were then examined to assess their health, including aerobic fitness. The adults who were most fit showed fewer reductions in the frontal, parietal, and temporal areas of the brain. Overall, their brain tissue was more robust.

What does this mean for you? Aerobic exercise does the body and brain good.

A new study goes even further and shows how regular aerobic exercise can help older adults perform better in thinking and memory tests. The benefits were seen after six months of exercising, and the findings have been published in Neurology (the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology).

Taking up a new type of physical activity can be daunting, particularly later in life. However, this new research shows just how beneficial it could be, with even ‘couch potatoes’ seeing improvements in brain function after starting to exercise.

Study author Marc J. Poulin from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, says: “Sure, aerobic exercise gets the blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get the blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease.”

For the study, 206 adults with an average age of 66 and no history of heart or memory problems worked out four days a week at a moderate intensity (30 minutes or less), or two days a week at a high intensity (20 minutes or less). Which goes to show that you don’t have to spend hours each day working up a sweat to start seeing benefits.

Thinking and memory tests were given to the participants at the start and the end of the study, and peak blood flow to the brain was measured by ultrasound.

Mr Poulin says: “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. At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal ageing, to have these types of increases is exciting.”

Aerobic exercise is any type of cardiovascular conditioning – i.e. cardio. It could be brisk walking, swimming, jogging, running, cycling or using a skipping rope – you just need to raise your heart rate and get a bit out of breath. But start very gradually if you’re new to fitness.

There were already plenty of good reasons to be physically active. Big ones include reducing the odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, or just look better. Now we can add another one to the list: to protect our memory and thinking skills, so what are you waiting for?

What is your go-to way to get your heart rate up?

– With PA

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