According to recent statistics, nearly 79 percent of American adults aren’t getting enough exercise as recommended by national organizations.
But now a new study says not doing so could put you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency–basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” says Dr. J. Carson Smith, researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
“No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”
Although researchers have known that exercise could benefit those suffering from memory loss, no direct evidence has been able to prove it–until now. And now it becomes even more imperative for older Americans to pick up the habit, say researchers.
What Researchers Discovered About Exercise’s Effects on Memory Loss
For years researchers have known exercise was beneficial for memory loss–but they weren’t sure how. To finally piece the two correlations together, researchers embarked on a 12 week study, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
To test out their theory, researchers recruited a group of sedentary, older adults, ranging from 60 to 88 years old.
Researchers put them on a doctor-approved exercise program which focused on treadmill walking, then had them take a series of tests to determine their memory recall.
While their ability to recall names was unsatisfactory during the start of the study, during the end of the study their memory recall improved.
Upon observing brain scans of the participants, researchers also noticed improvements in their neural efficiency.
Comparatively, it’s like cleaning unnecessary memory space from a slow computer–when the empty information is eliminated, the computer operates faster. And so too do people’s brains after making exercise a habit.
“People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction,” says Smith.
He goes on to say that he hopes larger studies can show how exercise specifically impacts brain function, and to a larger extent, Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Fit in Exercise
If you’re at risk for memory loss–or perhaps you’re already suffering from it–then this study couldn’t be clearer: Exercise is your go-to panacea.
But is it really that important?
“Older adults should be doing aerobic activity to help maintain body weight, strengthening exercises to develop and maintain muscle mass and some type of flexibility training,” says Dr. James Graves, a dean at the College of Health at the University of Utah.
“A very healthy 70-year-old can safely participate in high-intensity activity while a frail 60-year-old needs to lower the intensity.”
To fit in exercise and stay healthy, here is what personal trainers recommend:
Muscle mass naturally declines as you age–which, unfortunately, can make you weaker and more prone to injury.
To maintain or build muscle mass, a gentle resistance program using light weights or resistance bands can help you regain muscle and protect your bones from injury.
Cardiovascular exercise is important.
While training for a triathlon isn’t advised if you’re not healthy, just adding one 30 minute walk to your daily schedule can improve your cardiovascular endurance–and according to researchers, other health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Other exercises that can improve your cardiovascular endurance include dancing, gardening, and yes, even swimming.
Consider flexibility exercises.
Being strong and fit isn’t the only important part of an exercise routine–personal trainers also recommend flexibility exercises, which can help improve your mobility.
According to researchers, it may also improve another important aspect of aging: Cognitive function.
Readers: What are some other ways you try to avoid memory loss?