It can be more difficult for seniors to exercise, but many studies have shown that regular exercise can be particularly beneficial. Not only does it increase energy and confer health benefits, it can also help to boost seniors’ thinking skills. Researchers reviewed studies that looked at seniors’ thinking and memory skills in response to regular exercise. The study has been published in Neurology® Clinical Practice, the American Academy of Neurology’s official journal.

Studies were included where seniors were asked to exercise for at least a month and their thinking and memory skills were compared to participants who did not exercise. In total, 98 studies were found that matched these criteria, involving 11,061 participants with an average age of 73. Most of the participants (58%) did not exercise regularly before becoming involved in the study. 59% of the participants were healthy adults, 26% had mild cognitive impairment, and 15% had dementia. The exercise session length, frequency, and total exercise amount were analysed. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking, and dancing, was the most common type of exercise.

Walking was the most common type of aerobic exercise used in the studies. Image credits: Pixabay.

The researchers found increased thinking skills in participants who exercised. Interestingly, the amount of weekly exercise did not play a role in shaping thinking skills. Instead, the number of hours of exercise and the length of each exercise session was important. Those who exercised for at least 52 hours over a period of 6 months, for about an hour each time, showed improvement. However, those who only exercised for 34 hours or less did not show any substantial improvement. It therefore seems important that seniors who want to improve their thinking skills exercise for the long haul.

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“These results suggest that a longer-term exercise program may be necessary to gain the benefits in thinking skills,” said study author Joyce Gomes-Osman, PT, PhD, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. “We were excited to see that even people who participated in lower intensity exercise programs showed a benefit to their thinking skills. Not everyone has the endurance or motivation to start a moderately intense exercise program, but everyone can benefit even from a less intense plan.”

Both healthy individuals and those with cognitive impairment benefited from long-term exercise. Their brains were able to process faster and take less time to perform mental tasks. This amount of exercise helped healthy people to manage time, focus, and achieve goals. Unfortunately, no link was found between exercise and improved memory skills.

This study stresses the important of exercise and how it can improve quality of life for seniors.

Journal reference: Gomes-Osman et al. 2018. Neurology® Clinical Practice.