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Get Moving, Seniors: It's Good For Your Brain

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 15th 2020

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FRIDAY, May 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Want to give your brain a boost? Go for a swim, take a walk, or spin your partner on the living room floor.

A new study finds that aerobic exercise can improve older adults' thinking and memory, even if they're longtime couch potatoes.

This type of exercise increases blood flow to the brain and counters the effects of normal aging, according to the study published online May 13 in the journal Neurology.

"As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise program later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense," said study author Marc Poulin, of the University of Calgary School of Medicine in Canada.

"Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get 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," Poulin said in a journal news release.

The study included 206 adults, average age 66, with no history of memory or heart problems.

For six months, they took part in supervised exercise program three times a week. As they progressed, their workout increased from an average 20 minutes a day to least 40 minutes. They were also asked to work out on their own once a week.

At the end of the exercise program, participants had a 5.7% improvement on tests of executive function, which includes mental abilities used to focus, plan, recall instructions and multi-task. They also had 2.4% increase in verbal fluency, a measure of how quickly a person can retrieve information.

"This change in verbal fluency is what you'd expect to see in someone five years younger," Poulin said.

On average, blood flow to their brain increased 2.8% -- a gain tied to a number of improvements in types of thinking that typically decline with age.

"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," Poulin said.

"At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal aging, to have these types of increases is exciting," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about exercise and physical activity.