There are many benefits to daily exercise, including improved cardiovascular ability and increased energy levels.
Researchers have not yet conclusively determined the causes of cognitive deterioration. Like the body, the brain undergoes changes during the normal aging process. These may include changes in brain chemistry, structure, and how the brain functions. Can something as simple as regular exercise slow progressive decline and make our brains function better?
There are a number of studies that focus on the effects of physical activity on cognitive functioning in people 50 years and older.
For example, a review of 11 studies found that aerobic exercise in people 55 years and older without cognitive problems can improve some aspects of cognitive functioning. The results showed improvement in motor function, cognitive speed, and auditory and visual attention.
In one large study over 18,000 women aged 70-81 years who were followed for a two year period. Researchers found that long-term, increased levels of physical activity was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
In a study of older men, it was found that participating in activities even of low or moderate intensity still have benefits. However, men who started doing less physical activity had a faster decline in cognitive function.
Walking is widely known to be beneficial for both the mind and the body. The following are some tips to walk safely:
Other ideas for moderate physical activity include going up and down stairs (as opposed to taking the elevator or escalator), gardening, dancing, swimming, and water aerobics.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
American Association of Retired People
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Angevaren M, Aufdemkampe G, et al. Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;3:CD005381
Atkinson HH, Rosano C, et al. Cognitive function, gait speed decline, and comorbidities: the health, aging, and body composition study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2007;62(8):844-50.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 23, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2015.
Rosano C, Simonsick EM, et al. Association between physical and cognitive function in healthy elderly: the health, aging, and body composition study. Neuroepidemiology. 2005;24(1-2):8-14.
van Gelder BM, Tijhuis AR, et al. Physical activity in relation to cognitive decline in elderly men—the FINE Study. Neurology. 2004;63:2316-2321.
Walking safety. Runners World website. Available at: http://www.runnersworld.com/getting-started/walking-safety. Accessed January 15, 2015.
Weuve J, et al. Physical activity, including walking, and cognitive function in older women. JAMA. 2004;292:1454-1461.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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