As you age, exercise increases your mental fitness

July 20, 2022

About the Study

Three groups of 105 men and women, aged 70 to 77, were divided by researchers. The first person engaged in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) under supervision twice a week at a heart rate of 90% or higher. The second was exercised at a heart rate of 70% of maximum exertion. The third group served as a control group and engaged in at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise each day without having their heart rates monitored. Cardiorespiratory function and brain volume were assessed one, three, and five years after the participants began exercising.

All three groups experienced a considerable improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness throughout the first year.

According to study co-author Asta Haberg, PhD, professor in the department of neuromedicine and movement science at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, those who entered the study with higher fitness levels saw less brain tissue loss over the years, but even those who were newer to exercise gained some degree of improved working memory. However, there was one significant aspect of improvement that wasn't related to heart rate or cortical thicknes. For instance, those who had greater control over their exercise regimen—including the choice of activity, location, and whether they worked out alone or with a partner—had better results.

"Based on this, we speculate that more time spent being physically active performing an activity chosen by the individual is key to better brain health," says Haberg. "Also, diligently following physical activity guidelines provides a significant cardiorespiratory effect in healthy older adults."

A previous study indicates that this kind of management can contribute to keeping a regular fitness regimen because it can increase workout enjoyment. For instance, one study found that while approximately 50% of exercise program participants quit within the first six months, those who experience good feelings have much greater levels of program adherence.

Why Exercise Helps the Brain

According to Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in California, there are a lot of reasons why exercise affects the brain.

Aerobic exercise helps with vascular integrity, which means that it improves blood flow and function, and that includes the brain,” Dr. Kesari notes. "That's one of the reasons that being sedentary increases your risk of cognitive issues because you're not getting optimal circulation to the parts of the brain related to functions like memory."

He continues by saying that exercise can lower inflammation throughout the body and encourage the formation of new neural connections in the brain. Both contribute to reducing the risks of age-related brain disease.According to a study published in Preventive Medicine, adults who are sedentary have a cognitive decline rate that is almost twice as high as those who engage in some type of physical activity. The link between the two is so strong that experts suggested promoting physical activity as a preventative measure for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Getting Active

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends activities like dancing, walking, light yard work, gardening, and using the stairs rather than the elevator in its information about older adults and brain health. It also notes that endurance training and strength training are advantageous for older adults. Nevertheless, those who are just beginning to exercise may feel less overwhelmed by realizing that all movement is beneficial. The CDC advises keeping a straightforward diary of daily activities to keep track of your progress toward your fitness goals and discover new ways to challenge yourself each week.

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