Exercise Improves Brain Fitness as You Age
About the Study
Researchers recruited 105 men and women aged 70 to 77 and split them into three groups. The first performed supervised exercise twice a week with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at a 90% peak heart rate. The second did moderate-intensity training at 70% peak heart rate. The third, a control group, did at least 30 minutes of daily activity, but at a low intensity and didn’t have heart rate measured.
Brain volume and cortical thickness—a measure of gray matter associated with cognition—as well as cardiorespiratory function were measured after one year, three years, and five years of exercise.
We speculate that more time spent being physically active performing an activity chosen by the individual is key to better brain health.
Cardiorespiratory fitness increased significantly for all three groups during the first year. In terms of brain changes, those who came into the study with higher fitness levels saw less brain tissue loss over the years, but even those who were newer to exercise gained some degree of improved working memory, according to study co-author Asta Haberg, PhD, professor in the department of neuromedicine and movement science at Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
There was one major aspect of improvement that wasn’t related to heart rate or cortical thickness, Dr. Haberg adds—it was whether the participants felt control over their choices. For example, those who were able to choose their activity, where they exercised, and whether they exercised alone or with a training buddy tended to have more beneficial outcomes.
“Based on this, we speculate that more time spent being physically active performing an activity chosen by the individual is key to better brain health,” says Haberg. “Also, diligently following physical activity guidelines provides a significant cardiorespiratory effect in healthy older adults.”
That type of control also can be part of maintaining a regular fitness routine, previous research suggests, because it can lead to greater enjoyment with exercise. For example, one study notes that about 50% of participants in exercise programs drop out in the first 6 months, but that those who feel positive emotions tend to have significantly higher levels of program adherence.
Source: Very Well Fit
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