Recent research has shown that exercise can boost brain health and memory in older adults and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Now a new study finds that drinking more water may be key to reaping the full cognitive benefits of exercise.
The new study highlights the link between hydration prior to exercising and the extent of exercise-enhanced cognition in middle-aged and older adults. The findings were recently presented at the American Physiological Society’s (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2018 in San Diego.
Although it is well-documented that dehydration can impair exercise performance and brain function in young people, less is known about its impact on older adults.
“Middle-age and older adults often display a blunted thirst perception, which places them at risk for dehydration and subsequently may reduce the cognitive health-related benefits of exercise,” said the researchers.
For the study, the research team recruited recreational cyclists (average age 55) who would participate in a large cycling event on a warm day (78-86 degrees F). Both before and after the event, the cyclists completed a “trail-making” task, which involved quickly and accurately connecting numbered dots using paper and pencil. This activity served as a test of executive function.
Executive function is defined as a set of mental skills needed to get things done; for example, the skills needed to plan, focus, remember and multitask. Exercise has previously been shown to improve intellectual health, including executive function.
Before the event, the research team tested the participants’ urine and divided them into two groups, normal hydration and dehydrated, based on their hydration status.
Participants in the normal hydration group showed noticeable improvement in the completion time of the trail-making test after cycling when compared to their pre-cycling test. The dehydration group also completed their post-cycling test slightly more quickly, but the time reduction was not significant.
“This suggests that older adults should adopt adequate drinking behaviors to reduce cognitive fatigue and potentially enhance the cognitive benefits of regular exercise participation,” the researchers wrote.
Brandon Yates, M.S., of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston, presented the findings at the convention.
While dehydration can be harmful to anyone, it is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. Symptoms may include extreme thirst, dark urine, less frequent urination, dizziness, fatigue and confusion.
Source: American Physiological Society