People in the oldest stages of life who regularly participate in aerobic activities and strength training do better in cognitive tests than those who are sedentary or only participate in aerobic exercise. That is the key finding of our new study, published in the journal GeroScience.
We assessed 184 cognitively healthy people ranging in age from 85 to 99. Each participant reported their exercise habits and underwent a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests designed to assessment of various dimensions of cognitive function.
We found that those who incorporate both aerobic exercises, such as swimming and cycling, and vigorous exercises such as weightlifting into their routines – regardless of intensity and duration – have better mental agility, faster thinking and a greater ability to shift or adapt their thinking.
Using a well-known cognitive screening tool called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment that provides a balanced view of many aspects of cognition, we found that people who did not participate in even which physical exercise gained less than those who trained cardio and strength.
This difference was small but significant even when controlling for other factors such as education and how much exercise. In addition, the group that did both types of exercises was better in specific cognitive activities, such as symbol coding, more than the screening results.
It is important to note that while our study established a correlation between a mix of aerobic and strength training exercises and higher cognitive test scores, the study design did not enable us to determine a causal relationship.
However, the results suggest that different exercise routines are associated with improved cognitive function in people in their late 80s and beyond. We conducted the study as part of a large, multisite collaboration with the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, which has institutes at the University of Florida, the University of Miami, the University of Arizona and the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Why is this important?
The aging of the world’s population makes mental health an urgent issue. The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the US is expected to reach nearly 14 million by 2060, up from more than 6 million in 2020.
Our findings not only offer hope for healthier aging but also present a practical approach to maintaining or even improving mental health in the last decades of life.
These results are not just numbers; it represents real-world cognitive abilities that affect the quality of life for those entering their golden years.
The fact that nearly 70 percent of our study participants were already participating in some physical exercise before signing up for our study challenges the stereotype that aging and physical inactivity necessarily go together. – others.
Our findings provide an evidence base for health care providers to consider recommending a combined regimen of aerobic and vigorous exercise as part of their patients’ health plans. Studies show that when cognitive decline is slow, people spend less on medical care and experience a higher quality of life.
Some of the next questions we hope to answer include: What types of aerobic and vigorous exercise are most effective for mental health? Is walking as effective as jogging? Does lifting weights have the same effect as resistance exercises? And how much exercise is needed to see noticeable cognitive benefits?
Another critical question is the potential of exercise as a treatment for neurocognitive disorders in the elderly. Our results suggest that physical activity is a preventive measure. But could it also be an active treatment for cognitive decline? This is an exciting development and one that opens up all kinds of new possibilities for helping people live fully throughout their lifespan.
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