Physical exercise can protect and even improve brain health as people age but how much and what kind of exercise can help keep the mind sharp?

Exercise Regimes That Can Improve Cognitive Performance

An earlier study published in January showed that aerobic exercise can improve the cognitive health of older adults. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, showed that this type of physical activity can delay and even improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease that mostly afflicts the older population.

Researchers of a new study, however, found other forms of physical exercise are also beneficial to brain health.

Analysis of data from 4,600 clinical trials that tested the effects of different exercise regimes on cognition of older people revealed that nearly any type of exercise can contribute to improved cognitive performance.

These exercise regimes range from aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, and walking to weight lifting and mind-body exercises that include tai chi and yoga.

"It's very encouraging that the evidence supports all sorts of different exercise interventions, not just aerobic, to improve thinking abilities," said study researcher Alvaro Pascual-Leone, from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Amount Of Physical Exercise Needed To Benefit Brain Health

The researchers also found that those who exercised for 52 hours over a period of six months had the biggest improvements in thinking, problem-solving, and mental processing speed.

"We found that exercising for at least 52 hours is associated with improved cognitive performance in older adults with and without cognitive impairment," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in journal Neurology Clinical Practice on May 30.

"Exercise modes supported by evidence are aerobic, resistance (strength) training, mind-body exercises, or combinations of these interventions."

Consistency Is Key To Gaining Benefits Of Exercise

Study researcher Joyce Gomes-Osman, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that 52 hours is not necessarily the magic number, citing that what the results show is that longer exposure to exercise is needed to gain the benefits of exercise for the brain, and help areas involved in thinking and problem-solving.

The researcher also noted that weekly time spent on minutes-long exercise known to confer physical and cardiovascular health benefits was not found to be associated with improved cognitive abilities. This suggests that people have to be more consistent with exercising over a longer period of time to gain the benefits of physical activity on cognitive performance.

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