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Good Housekeeping
Jennifer Chan, Assistant Managing Editor
July 26, 2012

Exercise May Help Improve Cognitive Function in Older Adults

It's never too late to join the gym--here's why you should encourage your parents and other older relatives to do so. By Jennifer Chan

You may not be able to stop the aging process, but you can at least do something to prevent your brain from deteriorating. Four new studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver suggest that exercise may help improve cognitive skills, even in people over the age of 65.

In one study, researchers assigned 120 inactive adults to a year-long exercise regimen. Some participated in moderate-intensity walks, while others joined a stretching-toning program. By using Magentic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to scan the brain, researchers found that those who did a year of moderate-intensity walks had better memory and increased volume in the hippocampus, which is important for processing memory.

The second study involved patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In the study led by Dr. Hiroyuki Shimada of the National Center for Geriatrics & Gerontology in Japan, 47 adults between the ages of 65 and 93 were assigned to either a multifaceted exercise program or a no-exercise group for a year. The multifaceted program involved aerobic exercise, strength exercise and balance training. Those who weren’t involved in the exercise program simply took health classes. At the end of the study, those who were part of the exercise program showed improvements in memory and language skills.

In the study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, women aged 70 to 80 (also with MCI) were divided into three groups: resistance training, aerobic training, or balance-and-tone training. The participants exercised two times a week for six months. After half a year, researchers found that those who did strength training reaped the most benefits. They did better on tests assessing attention, memory, and higher-order brain functions like conflict resolution. Women in strength training also showed increased function in three brain regions involved with memory.

The last study divided 155 community-dwelling women between the ages of 65 and 75 into two groups; one would do resistance training, and the other would do balance-and-tone training. After one year, researchers found that all of the women had improved memory function, but that those with better cognitive function in the first place did remarkably well under resistance training

These four studies only serve to reiterate the importance of exercise. Strength training, in particular, seems to be the most effective. 

(Photo by John Thomas via Flickr Creative Commons)

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Jennifer Chan
Assistant Managing Editor
Jennifer Chan was a contributing writer for Female Network for two years before formally joining the team as a staff writer in July 2012... Read more...
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