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Exercise can improve aspects of memory, study suggests

December 14, 2012

Maintaining cognitive function is a crucial element of independent living, and new research suggests that exercise may be the best way to do so. A team of scientists from New Zealand's University of Otago found that exercise can not only help seniors maintain certain aspects of mental health but improve them as well.

Published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, the findings were based on an analysis of previously conducted trials, and the results send the message that exercise should be a key component of healthy aging. Specifically, the team noted that physical activity was tied to improvements in areas such as switching tasks, working memory and selective attention.

"The indications reported thus far - that regular exercise can benefit brains even when they are in their prime developmentally - warrant more rigorous investigation, particularly in the context of society becoming increasingly sedentary," the authors wrote.

Seniors likely do not have to do anything too strenuous to reap the mental benefits of exercise, and experts suggest that even simple activity such as walking may be the best choice. A 2010 study found that walking at little as five miles a week can protect brain structure, while bumping the figure to six miles might help seniors reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's later on, according to the Daily Mail.

"Alzheimer's is a devastating illness, and unfortunately, walking is not a cure. But walking can improve your brain's resistance to the disease and reduce memory loss over time," Dr Cyrus Raji of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told the newspaper.

The findings are particularly important given that Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive issues are among the most pressing issues facing the senior community. Approximately 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.