Exercise is key to a healthy mind after 50

Something we all fear, regardless of our age, is the gradual loss of our cognitive function. And while there are now many ways can halt certain diseases, like quitting smoking to prevent lung cancer or eating a healthy diet to ward off type-2 diabetes, cognitive decline has remained a puzzle.

Well, a new study has shed some much needed light on the situation.

The review, published in the BMJ’s British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined the data from 39 separate studies to assess whether physical exercise in adults over 50 had any outcome on cognitive function.

And once again, exercise proved to be just what the doctor ordered.

Of the 39 studies, a very promising 36 showed that physical exercise was beneficial for cognitive health, regardless of the current state of your mental health. All types of exercise studied, except yoga, showed significant benefit to cognition, in particular the ability to process information rapidly, stay alert, make goal-orientated decisions and get the most out of their long-term and short-term memories. Notable exercises included aerobic exercise, resistance training (such as weight lifting) and tai chi.

The exercises performed best when undertaken for 45-60 minutes for as many days of the week as possible. Engaging in the exercise at a moderate intensity performed better than low intensity exercise, so make sure you get stuck in!

Joseph Northey, lead researcher from the University of Canberra study, said doctors should be proactively prescribing exercise as a form of preventative medicine.

“Even exercising on one or two days of the week seemed to be effective, but the most important thing we found was the intensity of the exercise”, he said.

“It should be moderate, but aiming to get some vigorous intensity in there as well.”

The theory behind the research was that exercise assists the brain in receiving more blood, oxygen and nutrients and therefore helping to improve the all-round health of the organ. With the blood comes an increase in the amount of growth hormones that help to form new connections and neurons.

But to get an extra boost, try taking some exercise outside. James Beale, a sports and exercise psychologist from the University of East London, believes it might just help your work-out. He added: “We know about the positive impact of the natural environment on mood… we also know that physical exercise can have similar benefits and, that they marry together very well.”

But there seems to be a multiplying effect with outdoor exercise, meaning what you do will go further.

According to James Beale people are less tense and more rejuvenated after an outdoor workout. Meaning you will be able to get back out sooner and keep the improvements going!

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher