How Much Exercise Can Increase Brain Functions in Seniors?

July 24, 2018

A new study published by the Journal of Neurology: Clinical Practice suggests that seniors need 52 hours of exercise over a 6-month period to boost their reasoning skills and the brain’s processing speed.   The study also found that low-intensity exercise, such as walking, can provide these benefits as long as it is carried out for the same time.

Additionally, healthy seniors showed improvement in their executive function, which is the brain’s ability to set and achieve goals, plan ahead, and come up with strategies. The brain’s executive center also deals with “self-monitoring and inhibition.”

By comparison, those who only exercised for 34 hours over the same 6-month period did not get any benefits regardless of whether they were healthy or had MCI or dementia. Finally, the research didn’t find a link between the amount of exercise and memory.

As for the exercise types, they were all equally beneficial for the seniors’ thinking skills. Strength training, aerobic, or mind-body practices such as yoga all improved these skills.

Exercise and the Brain

Generally speaking, seniors who exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.

Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.

Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.

The results of this study suggested that a longer-term exercise program may be necessary to gain the benefits in thinking skills.