Exercise linked to better thinking skills in older people

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By Alice Tuohy | Wednesday 30 May 2018

Neurology Clinical Practice: Exercise for cognitive brain health in aging

A review of research into the effect of exercise on memory and thinking skills, suggests that physical exercise programmes could help to improve brain function in older people. The findings are published today (Wednesday 30 May) in the journal, Neurology Clinical Practice.

Scientists from the University of Miami reviewed findings from 98 scientific studies that investigated whether programmes of physical exercise could benefit cognitive skills in older people. The review drew upon studies that together included over 11,000 participants, 26 percent of whom had mild thinking and memory problems and 15 percent had a diagnosis of dementia. The study found that exercise programmes in which older people engaged in at least 52 hours of physical activity over six-months were linked to improvements in certain memory and thinking skills.

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Regular exercise has a whole range of health benefits and existing evidence suggests it can play an important role in keeping our brains healthy as we age. This review underscores the link between exercise and our memory and thinking skills and highlights the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle in the long-term in order to see benefits to cognitive health.

“The majority of people who took part in this research had a sedentary lifestyle before starting an exercise programme and we can’t tell whether older people who are already physically active would experience the same benefits. While the findings suggest that exercise could help boost cognitive skills in older people regardless of whether or not they already have memory problems, this study didn’t look at whether exercise could limit the risk of dementia.

 “Exercising doesn’t have to mean spending lots of time in the gym. The researchers found that both aerobic exercise, like walking or cycling, and weight training could benefit memory and thinking skills provided that participants spent enough time being physically active. For many people, the best way of sticking to an exercise programme is to find something that they enjoy. A brisk walk, a game of tennis or going swimming can all form part of an active lifestyle.

“As well as staying physically active, evidence suggests that there are other things we can do to look after our brain. These include not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, only drinking in moderation, eating a balanced diet and staying mentally active.”


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Alice Tuohy