New research links aerobic exercise to improved memory in older adults

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A new study, released in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, found aerobic exercise plays a major role in improving cognition among older adults. The findings suggest that high-intensity exercise may enhance memory in older adults, after a series of fitness tests.

The study, conducted by researchers at McMaster University, focused on 64 participants, aged 60 to 88, split into three groups over a span of 12 weeks. The three groups are as follows: high-intensity interval training, moderate continuous training, and stretching control.

For high-intensity interval training, participants exercised on a treadmill for four sets, four minutes each. The participants exercising as part of the moderate continuous training did so for one set lasting 50 minutes.

To assess memory performance, a Mnemonic Similarity Task was issued to the participants. Go Nogo and Flanker tasks were utilized to assess executive functions. During the sessions of exercise, enhancements in memory were examined through the function of the newborn neurons from tests issued by researchers.

What researchers found was that the participants who initiated high-intensity interval training had a significant increase in high-interference memory, considerably more than the other two groups.

“Overall, these results suggest that aerobic exercise may enhance memory in older adults, with the potential for higher intensity exercise to yield the greatest benefit,” wrote Barbara Fenesi, co-author of the study.

Jennifer Heisz, another co-author, adds: “It’s never too late to get the brain health benefits of being physically active, but if you are starting late and want to see results fast, our research suggests you may need to increase the intensity of your exercise.”

“Exercise is a promising intervention for delaying the onset of dementia. However, guidelines for effective prevention do not exist. Our hope is this research will help form those guidelines.”