Taking part in moderate exercise several times each week improves the brain power of people aged 50 years and above, according to new research.
Researchers at the University of Canberra analysed 39 previous studies, and found that thinking and memory skills were most improved among people who exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis.
Even those people who had already demonstrated signs of cognitive decline were found to improve their capabilities by exercising each week.
The team investigated studies which analysed the effects of at least four weeks’ worth of structured physical exercise on adults’ brain function. Across a range of brain tests, reading, learning and reasoning performances were found to have been boosted by aerobic exercise. Meanwhile, memory and the ability to plan and organise were improved by muscle training.
“Even exercising on one or two days of the week seemed to be effective, but the most important thing we found was the intensity of the exercise,” said lead author Joseph Northey, researcher at the University of Canberra.
“It should be moderate, but aiming to get some vigorous intensity in there as well.”
Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimers Research UK, stressed that “exercising doesn’t have to mean spending lots of time in the gym”.
“The best way of sticking to an exercise programme is to find something that you enjoy; a brisk walk, a game of tennis or going swimming can all form part of an active lifestyle.”
He also highlighted the importance of drinking alcohol in moderation, refraining from smoking, eating a healthy diet and taking part in mentally stimulating challenges and puzzles, in order to slow the inevitable decline of cognitive function as people age.
The research was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.