Exercise is smart thinking for the over 50s

New research shows that a healthy dose of exercise keeps the brain ticking in the over 50s.  Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at nearly 40 different studies. Each had participants over 50 years old who were exercising under supervision.  It was found that moderate exercise boosted brain performance.

So is a walk to the shops enough?

Well, it depends on how fast you walk!  Exercise can be labeled as low, moderate or vigorous intensity and is calculated in ‘METs’ (metabolic equivalents).  One MET is equal to sitting quietly. Moderate exercise is 3 – 6 METs and examples include walking briskly at  3 – 4.5mph.  Other ways of exercising to a moderate level (the level that has been shown to be beneficial) are cycling on the flat, aerobics, hiking and ballroom dancing.  The type of exercise does not seem to matter too much as aerobic and resistance training were shown to have a positive effect on cognitive function.

There were fewer studies looking at Tai Chi but they did also show a positive effect on how the participants completed the brain tests.  What is important, though, is to exercise for between 45 – 60 minutes on as many days a week as possible.  So the shops shouldn’t be too close

And what is cognitive function?

The performance of the brain or cognitive function can be tested in different ways.  The people in the studies had to show various things including their ability to concentrate, process new information and their memory.  The results show that exercising benefited those with normal cognitive function at the start as well as though who had slightly reduced cognitive function in all of these ways.  It may be that those doing the exercise performed better because they knew exercise may help their brain function.  However, the research does show a strong relationship between those exercising at a moderate level for 45 – 60 minutes and an improvement in how their brains worked.

Can exercise prevent dementia?

Dementia is a medical condition that includes loss of mental ability and difficulty remembering things.  It is more than just the normal forgetfulness that happens as we all age.  There are different types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.  This research does not look at the chance of developing dementia depending on how much exercise you do.  However, other research has shown the protective effect of exercise against developing dementia.  We now know being inactive, obese and smoking all negatively effect the blood supply to the brain and this may be why these factors increase the chance of developing dementia.  Therefore, this research adds to the growing opinion that exercise can keep the brain healthy into older age.

So why exercise?

With us all leading increasingly busy lives, it can be difficult to regularly exercise.  But the tremendous benefits of exercise are well known.  It reduces the chance of developing medical conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression, hypertension, obesity, and osteoporosis) and premature death.  This research is even more reason to dust off the trainers, pump up your bike’s tyres or get down the gym for some moderate exercise as many times a week as possible.

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

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We have a transparent policy on corrections and amendments. They will be listed below.

  1. There was a duplication of a paragraph regarding the health benefits of Tai Chi. This has now been removed (4/5/17.) BM JANAWAY.
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