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Exercise can improve brain function at any age
Aerobic exercise increases blood circulation in the brain and improves cognitive function. Scientists have found that exercise is effective even for sedentary seniors.
A new study, published in the journal Neurology, found that if you start aerobic exercise even in old age, your thinking ability will improve despite age-related changes. You don't have to be young and in good shape to experience the benefits of physical activity.
To test how physical activity affects cognitive function, the researchers recruited 206 middle-aged and elderly people (mean age 66) into the study. None of them had memory impairments or heart disease.
Participants in the study regularly did aerobic exercise: moderate-intensity exercise no more than 30 minutes four times a day, or intense no more than twice a week.
Scientists estimated cerebral blood flow in study participants: in six months, it increased by about 3%. The study authors noted that blood flow improved in areas of the brain that are responsible for important mental functions. They emphasize that, in parallel, there has been a positive change in those aspects of thinking ability that usually suffer with age.
Before and after the experiment, the participants underwent tests assessing mental function. After a course of exercise, they improved their performance of executive brain functions (for example, thinking flexibility) by almost 6%, and their fluency test improved by 2.4%.
“Each of us over time notices that mental and physical abilities deteriorate over time. But even if you start exercising in the second half of your life, the brain benefits can be enormous,”said Marc J. Poulin, a professor at the University of Calgary and co-author of the study.