Canadian researchers have shown that moderate intensity exercise can help improve the memory of older people with slight memory loss and impaired cognitive function. While the gains in thinking and memory skills weren’t extreme, they were significant enough to validate the importance of remaining physically active at every age.
Exercise for Your Mind
Researchers divided 70 people, average age 74, into two groups. All participants had been diagnosed with mental decline caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels—the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. One group took an exercise class of moderate intensity 3 times a week for 6 months, while the rest received dietary guidance and information on mental decline, but no education on the importance or implementation of physical activity.
Researchers tested overall thinking skills, executive function skills, such as the ability to plan and organize, and daily coping skills at the start and end of the study, as well as 6 months after the exercise program had ended. At the end of 3 months, those in the exercise group showed improvement in memory and thinking skills. For instance, they improved almost 2 points on an 11-point test. The control group showed no such cognitive gains. Six months later, however, after the exercise program had ended, there was no difference in the memory scores of the groups, which suggests that the mental gains from exercise are sustained only so long as you keep getting up and moving.
Researchers also identified other health boons from being active. Those participating in exercise had lower blood pressure, which imparts a prohibitive effect on mental decline. (High blood pressure has been shown to increase the risk of dementia.) Those in the exercise group also showed better markers for cardiovascular health, such as a farther walking distance over 6 minutes.
What Type of Exercise Is Best for You?
There truly is an exercise out there for everyone. And you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or a cardio queen to reap the benefits. Choose a physical activity of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or bicycling. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Moderate to brisk walking at a pace of 3-4.5 miles per hour
- Bicycling at a pace of 5-9 miles per hour
- Water aerobics
- Light calisthenics
- Aerobic dancing, such as Zumba
- Ballroom dancing, tango, salsa, etc.
- Cardio machines, such as rowing
- Recreational swimming