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Evidence that exercise helps in keeping your brain fit

Exercise for cardiovascular health, stress management, weight loss, lifting mood is often prescribed to a patient. Scientific evidence supports the benefits of activity for all of these things. However, there are few medication interactions or side effects.

So, is there an “exercise prescription” for improving your brain?

Some mounting evidence revealed that exercise could boost brain function and guard against dementia. This makes an excellent physiologic sense: elevated blood flow to the brain means toxins out and more nutrients and oxygen in. However, the main question is will exercise help older adults? What type of exercise, how much, and for how long? What about people who already have some cognitive impairment or early dementia?

In Australia, a group of exercise physiologists tries to scour the research to answer those questions. Over ten thousand quality studies of exercise and brain function were examined. By quality, we mean controlled clinical trials (RCTs) and randomised that are experiments designed to test a specific hypothesis.

The authors then limit their scope to published studies that were examined for at least four weeks of monitored exercise intervention for people over 50 years old and included a validated test of brain function at the beginning and the end of each research. The research studied included those with mild cognitive impairment or healthy subjects but excluded people with psychiatric diagnoses like strokes, depression and neurological. The list was shaved down to 39 studies after all that.

They then applied complex statistical analyses to evaluate after taking the data from all those studies:

  • The duration, in minutes
  • The exercise intensity (low, medium, high)
  • The types of exercise (resistance and cardio training like weights, yoga, or tai chi)
  • Frequency (how often) and length (1 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, or over six months)
  • Various brain functions (general cognition, executive function, attention, and memory)

So, if you’re 50 or over, what workouts help your brain?

The gist? Any moderate cardio exercise or resistance training perform improved multiple cognitive functions if regularly perform for at least 45 minutes, regardless of the length and frequency. Tai chi also improved memory. People with early dementia saw the benefits of this result irrespective of baseline cognition. There were fewer articles testing yoga and tai chi interventions, but the authors point out that yoga did not have a statistically notable effect.

So, what does this mean? The authors expressed confidence that our memory improves through many types of exercise and that we should concentrate on improving specific exercise prescriptions tailored to developing particular cognitive functions. In addition, activities that suit people with mobility issues (for example, yoga and tai chi) still require more research.

My opinion? Further evidence shows this study support an exercise plan and an active lifestyle. Do you want to improve your brain function? You presently know that you can walk briskly, hike, jog, cycle, dance around for about 45 minutes or do aerobics to help keep your brain in shape. Lift some weights, take a Pilates class or get some yard work or home improvements done, and see the benefit.

Takeaway: Do something if you want to feel and function better.

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