While we've known for some time about the many long-term benefits of exercise, from increased strength to a revved up metabolism, new research shows aerobic exercise also may have considerable effects on aging and brain health in the short term.
A study published in the "Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience" says exercise can help older adults improve their memory and overall cognitive health as they age.
Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas-Dallas studied a group of 37 adults ages 57 to 75 with sedentary lifestyles. They were split into two groups, one control group and one physically active group. The fitness group spent one hour a day, three times a week, either on the stationary bike or treadmill over the course of 12 weeks.
Each participant was assessed before, after and halfway through the study on their overall cardiovascular fitness level and cerebral function. At all three checkpoints, the group that was physically active was found to have higher blood flow in the brain and also improved memory. Researchers attribute this to increased blood flow in certain regions of the brain, including the hippocampus -- the region affected by Alzheimer's.
"Science has shown that aging decreases mental efficiency and memory decline is the number one cognitive complaint of older adults," lead author Sandra Bond Chapman said in a statement. "This research shows the tremendous benefit of aerobic exercise on a person's memory and demonstrates that aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging."
There are hundreds of benefits of exercise at any age but, for older adults, the affects are especially astounding. Another study in 2006 showed that exercise not only improved brain function but actually increased brain volume in older adults.
Researchers say the best part about the promising findings is that aerobic exercise is low-cost and accessible to anyone, yet is packed with benefits. Exercise can help lower blood pressure, help regulate your insulin levels, and even shorten hot flashes.
But to reap maximum benefits from an exercise regimen, Chapman says it's important to also get plenty of mental stimulation. "To think we can alter and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our thinking and get moving at any age," Chapman said.