6 Months of aerobic exercise can improve neurocognition among older people, says study

Old age dulls the mind as much as it weakens the body. However, a new study brings hope that regular sessions of aerobic exercise could improve the brain functions of older adults who have neurocognitive problems.

Researchers from Duke University conducted an experiment with older people who lived sedentary lifestyles. The participants suffered from poor concentration, experienced problems in decision-making, and found it difficult to remember things.

The participants performed 35-minute long aerobic exercises three times a week for a period of six months. By the end of the trial, they displayed notable improvements in their executive function.

Based on the preliminary results of this experiment, the Duke researchers believed that cardio exercise encourages improvements in the brain function of older adults who are vulnerable to cognitive decline. Their findings can be found in the medical journal Neurology. (Related: Just 3 sessions of aerobic exercise per week can relieve clinical depression.)

Regular aerobic exercise makes the brain younger

Furthermore, the six-month-long, thrice-a-week aerobic exercise protocol appeared to reverse the chronological aging of the brain. The Duke researchers found that older adults who worked out on a regular basis achieved cognitive test scores that were comparable to the scores of people with younger, healthier brains.

“The results are encouraging in that in just six months, by adding regular exercise to their lives, people who have cognitive impairments without dementia may improve their ability to plan and complete certain cognitive tasks,” stated Duke researcher James Alan Blumenthal, who served as the first author of the paper.


The cohort for his research team’s experiment was made up of 160 sedentary men and women with an average age of 65 and none being younger than 56. None of the participants had been diagnosed with dementia. However, they all reported experiencing issues with thinking skills and displayed vulnerabilities to hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions.

Before starting the experiment, Blumenthal and his colleagues employed standard cognitive tests to analyze the thinking and memory skills of the participants. They repeated the tests at the conclusion of the study. They also tested the blood glucose, blood pressure, and lipid levels of the participants to get an idea of the latter’s cardiorespiratory fitness.

The participants did not just go through cardio exercises. Some of them also followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), a healthy diet with low amounts of sodium and high levels of fiber. This diet lowers the blood pressure of hypertensive people.

Combining cardio exercise with fiber-rich diet is better at boosting the brain

In the Duke study, the cohort were randomly distributed between four groups. The first group followed the aerobic exercise protocol, the second group followed the DASH diet, the third group combined exercise and the healthy diet, and the fourth was provided with health education data over the telephone.

The researchers went over the results of the different groups. They found that participants who worked out on a regular basis displayed considerable boosts in their thinking skills. Meanwhile, those who did not exercise continued to show poor cognitive function, even if they ate healthy foods.

“There was no improvement in participants who only consumed the DASH diet, although those who exercised and consumed the DASH diet had greater improvements compared to health education controls,” Blumenthal reported. He stressed the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices for people with cognitive impairment, be it eating healthier foods or doing physical exercise, given how the executive function of participants who did not change their unhealthy lifestyle got steadily worse during the study.

See Brainfunction.news for more reporting on keeping your brain young and healthy.

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