Skip to main content

Aerobic exercises offer cognitive benefits surprisingly early

November 12, 2013

Mental acuity is of the utmost importance to many older adults. A sharp mind can help them enjoy the independent and active senior living lifestyle they have long envisioned, and a new study strengthens the notion that aerobic exercise may be one of the best ways for older adults to maintain a high level of cognitive function. While this isn't the first time scientists have seen evidence that working out can impact mental health, the research found that changes to the brain occur earlier than originally thought.

The study
To better understand the relationship between exercise and cognitive function, researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas looked at a group of adults between 57 and 75 years old. One half did not undergo any physical training, while the other half participated in a one-hour exercise regimen three times a week over the course of 12 weeks. The team found that not only did the exercise group perform better on memory tests, but they also saw better blood flow to the hippocampus earlier than when they saw improvements to memory. 

"Physical exercise may be one of the most beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to elevate memory performance," said study leader Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman. "These findings should motivate adults of all ages to start exercising aerobically."

Taking action
While many seniors are already living an active lifestyle, others may not be, and the results of the study should serve as the inspiration they need to get moving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults 65 and older should get approximately 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Of course, this is often easier said than done, especially for older adults who may be managing pain and discomfort caused by osteoarthritis. Although that presents another obstacle, there are some exercises that are well-suited to seniors living with the common ailment.

Low-impact activities are the best aerobic exercises for older adults with arthritis, the Mayo Clinic notes. These include options such as aquatic aerobics, walking and cycling. Experts also recommend adding different kinds of activities to your exercise regimen including range of motion exercises and strengthening exercises, which can improve balance and flexibility.