Exercise when you’re over 50 helps to sharpen the mind
New research now provides evidence that exercise is not just good for the body, but helps the brain too. A review of 39 studies undertaken by the University of Canberra and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is the biggest summary to date on the effects of physical activity on mental ability. Of those 39 studies, 4 were specifically focussed on Tai Chi.
For years, it has been recognised that exercise reduces the risk of several diseases, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. The results of this study now demonstrate that there is a clear link between exercising and improved mental faculty – such as overall brain capacity, memory, attention and alertness. The study recommends that people over 50 should undertake regular moderate to vigorous exercise (and just to clarify, moderate exercise is defined as being activity where you are able to hold a conversation at the same time!). In addition, a mixture of aerobic and strengthening exercises leads to the greatest health benefits – so walking or cycling regularly and carrying heavy shopping bags could provide this. For people over the age of 50 who cannot manage more challenging forms of exercise, Tai chi was specifically recommended by the authors of the study. Tai Chi is already promoted by the NHS for its ability to reduce stress, improve posture, balance and general mobility, and increase muscle strength in the legs.
The theory is that by exercising the brain receives a greater supply of blood, which keeps the nerve cells healthy and supplied with oxygen, lowers inflammation and lessens cellular damage. The great news is that even for people who are showing signs of mild cognitive decline, some improvement was observed with exercise.
How much do you need to do? Well the guideline is 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week; which echoes the advice of the UK Government guidelines. The study also identified that an exercise session needs to be at least 45 minutes, but in terms of benefitting the brain, doing more than an hour at a time provides no additional benefits.
So keeping fit will help you to stay alert, make decisions and get the most out of your long-term and short-term memories.