A combination of aerobic and resistance exercises can significantly boost the brain power of the over 50s, according to the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date.
Background: Physical exercise for older adults appears to be a very promising way to ward off (or perhaps halt) a decline in brain health and cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, the evidence is not yet high-level. In the current study, researchers systematically reviewed 39 relevant studies published up to the end of 2016 to assess the potential impact of varying types, intensities, and durations of exercise on the brain health of the over 50s. They analyzed the impact of aerobic exercise, resistance training (such as weights), multi-component exercise (containing elements of both aerobic and resistance training), tai chi, and yoga.
Results: Pooled analysis of the data showed that exercise improves the brain power of the over 50s, irrespective of the starting state of their brain health. Aerobic exercise significantly enhanced cognitive abilities, while resistance training had a profound effect on executive function, memory, and working memory. Tai chi also improved cognitive abilities, but the authors note that this analysis was based on just a few studies.
My Take: How much, and how often? The analysis points to a session lasting 45 to 60 minutes, of moderate to vigorous intensity, and of any frequency as good for brain health. While we need a large clinical trial to confirm the tai chi benefits, it is nice to know that such exercises may help those unable to perform more challenging forms of physical activity. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.
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Reference: Hsu, CL et al. Aerobic exercise promotes executive functions and impacts functional neural activity among older adults with vascular cognitive impairment. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2017; bjsports-2016-096846 DOI: 10.1136/bjs-ports-2016-096846