Looking for a magic elixir for health? There’s more evidence exercise may be it, improving thinking skills in older adults and protecting against heart damage in obese people, two separate studies published Monday show.
“Exercise has many, many benefits. … I don’t know that we fully understand why it has so many beneficial effects for so many organs and systems,” Dr. Roberta Florido, a cardiology fellow at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, told TODAY, as she listed some of the other known benefits, including improving depression, lowering blood pressure and strengthening muscles.
“We should do a better job of telling our patients to exercise,” she added.
In the first paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at the University of Canberra in Australia analyzed 39 previous studies looking into the effect of exercise on thinking skills in people over 50. That included things like memory, alertness and the ability to quickly process information.
They found physical activity improved all of those skills regardless of a person’s cognitive status.
The key was 45-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per session “on as many days of the week as feasible.” A combination of both aerobic exercise and resistance training worked best.
Each type of exercise seemed to have different effects on the factors responsible for the growth of new neurons and blood vessels in the brain, said co-author Joe Northey, a PhD student at the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise.
Tai chi was also helpful, though more evidence is needed to confirm this effect, the researchers note.
“Age is a risk factor no one can avoid when it comes to cognitive decline,” Northey said. “As our study shows, undertaking just a few days of moderate intensity aerobic and resistance training during the week is a simple and effective way to improve the way your brain functions.”