PhotoStaying mentally sharp into old age has long been an area of focus for researchers. Previous studies have shown how incorporating more blueberries or nuts into the diet can be a great way to boost brain function, but researchers at McMaster University have discovered another great way for older consumers to keep their memory skills sharp: high-intensity exercise. 

“There is urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults,” said researcher Jennifer Heisz. “Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays, and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity. This work will help to inform the public on exercise prescriptions for brain health so they know exactly what types of exercises boost memory and keep dementia at bay.” 

Staying mentally sharp

The researchers put their exercise hypothesis to the test by dividing 64 older participants between the ages of 66 and 80 into different exercise groups. Some stuck to stretching exercises, others engaged in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and a third group did moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). The participants were required to do their assigned exercise three times per week for 12 weeks. 

While the moderate exercise group and the stretching group saw some improvements, those who engaged in vigorous, high-intensity workouts saw vast improvements in their memory abilities. The study also revealed that increased fitness led to better memory; the more the participants stuck with their training and became more physically fit overall, the better their memory skills became. 

These findings provide promising ways for older consumers to enhance their memory function, though the researchers do recommend consumers listen to their bodies and what they’re capable of achieving physically. Increasing intensity shouldn’t correlate with injuries or accidents, and it can be done in a simple way, like increasing speed in intervals during a walk. 

“It’s never too late to get the brain health benefits of being physically active, but if you are starting late and want to see results fast, our research suggests you may need to increase the intensity of your exercise,” said Heisz. 

Benefits for consumers of all ages

Earlier this year, researchers from the American Academy of Neurology found that regular aerobic exercise could improve consumers’ thinking skills, noting that the benefits could be felt by those as young as 20 years old. 

While all age groups saw a boost in thinking skills by adding more cardio into their workout routines, the researchers noted that older consumers could reap the most cognitive benefits from these activities. 

“As people age, there can be a decline in thinking skills, however our study shows that getting regular exercise may help slow or even prevent such decline,” said researcher Yaakov Stern, PhD. “We found that all participants who exercised not only showed improvements in executive function but also increased the thickness in an area of the outer layer their brain.”

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