It’s widely known and accepted that regular exercise will help maintain strength, endurance and contribute to preserving overall health—but what about mental health? There are plenty of programs out there to engage the mind, several strategies to keep the brain sharp—especially in older individuals—but many of those seem to be working from the wrong end. What if a few minutes of physical exercise could keep both the body and the mind functioning well?
Recently published research from the University of Kansas Medical Center suggests that exercise can indeed improve brain function in older people. Researchers there have been studying the relationship between physical exercise and brain health for years and this study was designed to determine the “ideal amount of exercise necessary to achieve benefits to the brain.”
Over the course of a six month trial, held with healthy individuals who were 65 and older (and showed no cognitive issues), the individuals were placed in one of four groups. The control group had no monitored exercise, one group exercised for 150 minutes per week, another group exercised for 75 minutes per week and the final group exercised for 225 minutes per week.
The good news is that every group that exercised saw some mental benefit and the more exercise they did, the greater the benefit. Researchers found the most distinct improvements in “visual-spatial processing,” or the “ability to perceive where objects are in space and how far apart they are from each other.” The exercising groups also experienced “an increase in their overall attention levels and ability to focus.”
Although those who exercised longer saw greater benefits, researchers noted that the intensity of exercise seemed to matter more than the time spent exercising.
"For improved brain function, the results suggest that it's not enough just to exercise more," Dr. Eric Vidoni, a lead author of the journal article told KU Medical Center News. "You have to do it in a way that bumps up your overall fitness level."
There’s more research to be done on the subject of exercise and brain health, but these results are encouraging and just one more reason for older individuals to stay active.