Older people who get more intense exercise have a slower rate of cognitive decline compared to those who do not exercise at all or do little exercise.
Exercise provides numerous benefits to physical health and a new research has found that it can be beneficial for mental health too.
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Researchers from the University of Miami have found that intensive exercise can keep a mind sharp and slow down cognitive decline that occurs with aging. Older people who get more intense exercise have slower rate of cognitive decline such as memory and thinking abilities compared to those who do not exercise at all or do light exercise.
“The number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is on the rise, meaning the public health burden of thinking and memory problems will likely grow,” said lead author Clinton B. Wright, a professor of neurology from University of Miami.
“Our study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer.”
For the study, researchers looked at the data of more than 800 older people who participated in Northern Manhattan Study. Participants were asked how long and how often they exercise. 90% reported that they didn’t exercise at all or just did light exercise like yoga and strolling while remaining 10% reported moderate to intense exercise including running, aerobics or push-ups.
All participants showed no signs of thinking or memory impairment at the start of the study. Seven years later, they underwent a series of memory and thinking skills tests and a brain MRI. After five years, they again took memory and thinking tests.
When researchers compared the results, they noticed significant difference between both the groups. The group who reported low physical activity showed a greater decline over the five years than those who were involved in moderate to intense exercise. The conclusion was drawn on the basis of the participants’ performance in the tests.
The difference was equal to that of 10 years of aging and remained stable even after researchers adjusted other factors that could affect brain’s health such as smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure and body mass index.
“Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn’t interfere with medications,” said Wright. “Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain, but more research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results.”
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The study was published in journal Neurology.