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Morning Exercise Can Boost Brain Health, Decision-Making in Older Adults

High-Intensity Exercise Can Improve Memory in Older Adults

A new Canadian study shows that high-intensity workouts can improve memory in older adults.

The researchers believe the study has widespread implications for preventing dementia, a catastrophic disease that affects approximately 50 million people worldwide and is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade.

“There is urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults,” says lead author Dr. Jennifer Heisz, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “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.”

The study reveals that intensity is key. Specifically, older adults who exercised using short, bursts of activity saw an improvement of up to 30% in memory performance while participants who worked out moderately saw no improvement, on average.

Researchers recruited dozens of sedentary but otherwise healthy older adults between the ages of 60 and 88 who were monitored over a 12-week period and participated in three sessions per week. Some participants performed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) while a separate control group engaged in stretching only.

The HIIT protocol included four sets of high-intensity exercise on a treadmill for four minutes, followed by a recovery period. The MICT protocol included one set of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for nearly 50 minutes.

To capture exercise-related improvements in memory, researchers used a specific test that taps into the function of the newborn neurons generated by exercise which are more active than mature ones and are ideal for forming new connections and creating new memories.

They found older adults in the HIIT group had a substantial increase in high-interference memory compared to the MICT or control groups. This form of memory allows us to distinguish one car from another of the same make or model, for example.

Improvements in fitness levels directly correlated with improvement in memory performance.

“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,” Heisz said.

She cautions that it is important to tailor exercise to current fitness levels, but adding intensity can be as simple as adding hills to a daily walk or increasing pace between street lamps.

“Exercise is a promising intervention for delaying the onset of dementia. However, guidelines for effective prevention do not exist. Our hope is this research will help form those guidelines.”

The findings are published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Source: McMaster University

 

 

High-Intensity Exercise Can Improve Memory in Older Adults

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). High-Intensity Exercise Can Improve Memory in Older Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/11/03/high-intensity-exercise-can-improve-memory-in-older-adults/151494.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Nov 2019 (Originally: 3 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Nov 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.