Exercise Can Help Reduce Effects of Aging

Short term exercise found to increase physical and mental function in inactive adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For both physical and mental reasons, many adults become less active as they age. But even a small amount of regular physical activity might help improve the body and mind.

A recent study found that short-term aerobic exercise improved brain, heart and cognitive (memory, attention, reasoning) function in older adults who had a physically inactive lifestyle.

The researchers suggested that engaging in short-term, low intensity physical activity — such as riding a bike at a moderate speed or walking on a treadmill — for one hour, three times a week could help reduce the side effects of aging. They believe more research is needed on the benefits of exercise versus cognitive training.

"Discuss an exercise plan with your doctor."

The lead authors of this study were Sandra B. Chapman from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and Sina Aslan from Advance MRI, LLC, in Frisco, Texas.

The study included 36 adults with normal cognition between the ages of 57 and 75 years old. All of the participants led a sedentary (inactive) life and had not participated in any more than 20 minutes of exercise twice a week.

Every participant had to have an average IQ, a minimum of a high school diploma and be right-handed. In addition, the participants could not have a past history of neurological or psychiatric conditions, abnormally high blood pressure during exercise or high levels of depressive symptoms.

The researchers randomly split the participants into two groups: 18 people were in the exercise group and 18 people remained sedentary, serving as controls.

The participants completed a medical history, took a physical examination, had their height, weight and waist measured, took a glucose and thyroid test and had their heart function tested.

The exercise regimen involved three 60-minute sessions of aerobic exercise per week for 12 weeks.

The researchers measured the changes in the participants' brain blood flow, cognition (memory, attention, reason, etc.) and fitness level (intensity of exercise and maximum lung capacity) at the beginning of the study, at six weeks and at 12 weeks.

The findings showed that the participants in the fitness group had greater blood flow in the brain while resting, improved immediate and delayed memory abilities, increased lung capacity and were able to exert more energy than they previously could by the six week mark. 

The researchers suggested that short-term exercise may help reduce the negative side effects of aging in adults who lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Throughout the study, the fitness group became more and more functional and healthy, while the control group remained the same.

The researchers concluded that a change from a sedentary to a healthy, active lifestyle could help slow down physical and mental decline due to aging. When people hit the age of 50, physical and mental decline starts to speed up, so the researchers suggested that sedentary adults begin an exercise program as soon as possible.

According to Rusty Gregory, a certified wellness coach and dailyRx Contributing Expert, "The inevitable cognitive and physical decline associated with aging is significantly slowed in those who exercise regularly. Blood flow to the brain due to exercise creates new brain cells that aid in memory improvement and help slow the progress of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's."

"Exercise builds the strength, balance, energy, and confidence in the elderly needed to remain functional throughout their years," he said.

According to the authors of this study, more research is needed to see if the impact of exercise is greater than cognitive training.

The authors mentioned a few limitations of their study.

First, the sample size was very small. Second, there was not a control group that participated in a different amount of exercise. Third, there was no follow-up.

This study was published online on November 12 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

The National Institute of Health, the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, the Lyda Hill Foundation and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment provided funding.

Review Date: 
November 14, 2013
Last Updated:
December 16, 2013