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New Study Determines How Much Exercise Is Needed To Improve Cognition In Older Adults

Representative image.

Representative image.

New US research has provided some insight into how much physical activity is needed to help prevent cognitive decline as we age, finding that any exercise brings benefits as long as a minimum amount of 52 hours is completed over a 6-month period.

Led by researchers at the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), the new review looked at 98 trials including more than 11,000 participants to try to determine the optimal dose of exercise needed to maintain cognitive performance in both healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

The studies analyzed a wide range of exercises such as walking, running, weight-lifting, and yoga, and different durations of exercise plans including those that lasted for as little as four weeks to those lasting up to a year.

During the review the team also looked at the relationships between exercise type, intensity, session duration, frequency, total hours, and five categories of cognitive abilities.

They found that nearly any type of exercise, including aerobic exercises such as walking, running and cycling, mind-body exercises such as yoga and tai chi, or weight-lifting, can all contribute to improved cognitive performance.

When it came to how much physical activity was needed, interventions which involved exercising for at least 52 hours over a period of six months led to the greatest improvement in thinking abilities, with the most stable improvements found in mental processing speed in both the healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers noted that the amount of minutes spent exercising per week, which is known to have benefits for physical and cardiovascular health, did not appear to improve cognitive abilities, with the results suggesting that consistent exercise over a longer period of time may be needed to achieve benefits in cognitive performance.

"While there is solid evidence to suggest that maintaining a regular exercise regimen can improve brain health we were most interested in how we could practically apply these scientific findings to the lives of our patients, their family members and even to ourselves," said corresponding author Joyce Gomes-Osman. "For other forms of treatments such as prescription drugs, patients are prescribed a specific amount. Our study highlights the need to get this specific with exercise, too."

Co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone also commented that, "It's very encouraging that the evidence supports all sorts of different exercise interventions, not just aerobic, to improve thinking abilities."

"We are still learning about all the ways in which exercise changes our brain, and we are also all different, so identifying an ideal exercise dose remains a challenge," added Gomes-Osman. "We have many more questions about exercise dose, and we will design further studies to follow up."
first published:June 02, 2018, 13:34 IST