Most of us will experience changes to our cognitive function – things like memory, attention, awareness, reasoning, and judgement – as we age. Cognitive changes can affect our everyday lives, even in the absence of diseases like dementia. For example, older adults with impaired cognitive function are more likely to: fall; and struggle to take care of themselves, communicate effectively with their health care providers, and take medications as prescribed.
Fortunately, lifestyle can influence the cognitive changes that come with age – giving us the power to do things that help keep our minds healthy.
Benefits of exercise for cognitive function
Overall, people who engaged in physical activity had better attention, executive function, memory, and working (short-term) memory. This improvement was seen across the board – meaning it did not matter whether a person’s cognitive function was already mildly impaired or not. However, the impact on cognitive function differed according to exercise type, duration and intensity, as well as the specific area of cognition being looked at.
What types of exercise are best for your brain?
Resistance training may be especially effective for improving executive function, memory, and working memory, while tai chi improves working memory only. Although a variety of exercise types were successful, combined aerobic exercise and resistance training could be of most benefit, as could exercising at or above moderate intensity for 45-60 minutes.
Changes to cognitive function
On a positive note, cognition is not always a downward slide. While processing speed and memory may get worse with age in some people, well-practiced and familiar things like vocabulary often hold steady, or may even improve as the years go by. With that said, any significant changes in cognitive function should be discussed with a health care provider, in part because they may be an early symptom of dementia.
Exercise is a great way to keep the body fit and healthy. If that isn’t enough motivation to get you moving, the possible added benefit to your cognitive function just might!
Do you value credible health information? The McMaster Optimal Aging Portal is a free website that gives you access to evidence-based information to help you age well and manage your health conditions.