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New findings from a meta-analysis of studies involving over 11,000 individuals has strengthened the connection between physical exercise and benefits to cognition. Published in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice, this meta-analysis revealed improvements in processing speed, attention, global cognition and executive function in older adults (mean age of 73) who underwent at least 52 hours of physical fitness over the course of six months in sessions that lasted at least one hour (Practical Neurology, 2018). These findings applied to those with and without cognitive impairments. Interestingly, those in the meta-analysis who exercised less, with an average of 34 hours over a six-month period, did not experience the same cognitive benefits. Moreover, moderate intensity exercise, defined as 60% to 80% of maximum heart rate, was not found to be superior in terms of cognitive improvements compared to milder intensity exercise.  (Practical Neurology, 2018).

Cognitive Benefits of ExerciseBased on the results of these studies in the meta-analysis, the researchers learned that consistent, longer-term exercise regimens (such as six months or more) may be needed for cognitive benefits to be attained. Additionally, while many might think that higher intensity workouts provide stronger positive outcomes in brain function, the results of this meta-analysis demonstrate that even lighter intensity exercise programs can yield significant cognitive improvements. It is often difficult for older, sedentary adults to swiftly enter into a moderate or intense workout program, so it is good news to learn from this meta-analysis that even a mild exercise routine can be enough to generate improvements in thinking skills.

Staying sharp as we age is critical to maintaining longevity, and these results suggest that sticking to a sustained, long-term physical exercise program can play a major role in promoting a healthy brain in our later years.


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Meta-analysis Confirms Positive Effect of Exercise on Processing Speed, Executive Function, and Global Cognition Scores. (2018). Practical Neurology, 17(5), 8.