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Exercise Vigorously and Often to Boost Brain Health

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A regular and rigorous exercise program can help to preserve memory and thinking skills in people over 50, a large new analysis found. The findings provide strong new evidence of just how good exercise can be for the aging brain.

The study found that aerobic exercise or weight training, or a combination of the two, were effective in boosting brain health. The exercise should be of moderate to vigorous intensity and last for at least 45minutes. The more days a week you exercise, the better, the analysis found.

Tai chi, an ancient Chinese exercise regimen that uses body movements and breathing techniques to promote balance, control and relaxation, was also shown to be effective in preserving brain health, the study found. The findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

For the study, researchers at the University of Canberra in Australia pooled data from 36 rigorous trials that looked at exercise and brain health in people over 50. Brain benefits were observed with regular exercise of at least moderate intensity that lasted for 45 to 60 minutes.

“To improve cognitive function, this analysis provides clinicians with evidence to recommend that patients obtain both aerobic and resistance exercise of at least moderate intensity on as many days of the week as feasible,” the authors concluded.

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults, including older ones, strive for an “active lifestyle.” That means getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both moderate and vigorous activity. That translates to 30 minutes a day, five times a week, though the group says that getting short bursts of activity – say 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day – is also effective. Climbing stairs, playing a sport, walking, jogging, swimming or biking all count. The heart association also recommends strength and stretching exercises that build overall stamina and flexibility.

Other studies have suggested that regular exercise may help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Walking and other forms of regular exercise may even help to slow the decline in memory and thinking skills in people who already have the disease.

Ongoing physical activity has been linked to a longer life and all kinds of benefits for the body, including less heart disease, fewer falls and broken bones, greater lung function and a healthier body weight. It may be especially important to exercise and adopt other healthy lifestyle measures early in life, given mounting evidence that factors like obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and sedentary behavior in midlife all increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in old age.

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that likely depends on many factors, including the genes you inherit. Lifestyle factors are likely just one part of the preventive puzzle. While regular visits to the gym won’t guarantee a physically and mentally robust old age, it may help you to look, feel and act younger. Make sure to check with your family doctor before starting any new physical activity program.

By www.ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Joseph Michael Northey, Nicolas Cherbuin, Kate Louise Pumpa, et al: “Exercise interventions for cognitive function in adults older than 50: a systematic review with meta-analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, April 24, 2017

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