As we age, there is often a substantial reduction in both physical and cognitive functioning, which consequentially threatens one’s independence and quality of life. New research has uncovered a link between regular exercise and an improvement in cognitive performance amongst the elderly.
Maintaining a physically active lifestyle has been shown to help reduce age-related cognitive declines and the incidence of dementia. We know that exercise promotes the release of endorphins, which helps to lift and stabilise one’s mood, but we also know that these ‘happy hormones’ probably won’t do much for our memory. So, what is the reason behind enhanced cognitive functioning when regularly taking a brisk walk or attending a rejuvenating yoga class?
Experts hypothesise that neural and vascular adaptation to physical exercise promotes neurogenesis, angiogenesis, synaptic plasticity, decreased pro-inflammatory processes, and reduced cellular damage due to oxidative stress, and that it is all of this that leads to improved cognitive function.
How long should exercise last?
Studies that have recently been conducted have given evidence that a medium exercise duration of between 45 minutes to an hour showed more of a cognitive improvement than exercise that went on for a shorter or longer period of time.
What type of exercise is best?
Tai chi has been shown to improve working memory, in particular, and resistance training has been shown to improve executive function, memory and working memory, suggesting that it might be the best exercise option available.
The studies have also demonstrated that an exercise programme incorporating both aerobic and resistance-type training is beneficial to improving and maintaining cognitive performance in adults over the age of 50. The benefits of exercise have been seen and noted in almost all older adults, regardless of their cognitive state upon beginning their programme.
Medical professionals will continue to recommend exercise that is gentle on joints to their elderly patients. Swimming, yoga, tai chi, light resistance training and Pilates are all excellent suggestions as they focus on stretching the muscles and place very little strain on the joints and the heart.
Ultimately, for best results, older adults should strive to remain as active as possible, as often as possible. It would seem that exercise is the secret to more than just looking and feeling great, but thinking great, too!