Last updated May 31, 2018 at 9:51 am
Study shows you do have to put in a few hours of effort.
You don’t need to be a gym junkie for exercise to help improve your thinking skills, but you do need to make more than a token effort.
A recent US study suggests that people who on average work out for at least 52 hours over six months, for about an hour each session, may see some improvement, but those who give it only 34 hours do not.
No relationship was found between a weekly amount of exercise and improved thinking skills. There also was no link between the amount of exercise and improved memory skills.
“We were excited to see that even people who participated in lower intensity exercise programs showed a benefit to their thinking skills,” said study author Dr Joyce Gomes-Osman, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Not everyone has the endurance or motivation to start a moderately intense exercise program, but everyone can benefit even from a less intense plan.”
Gomes-Osman and colleagues reviewed the results of 98 trials in which a total of 11,061 older adults (average age 73) were asked to exercise for at least four weeks. The results of tests of their thinking and memory skills were then compared with those of people who did not start a new exercise routine.
Of the total, 59 per cent were categorised as healthy adults, 26 per cent had mild cognitive impairment and 15 per cent had dementia. 58 per cent did not regularly exercise before being enrolled in a study.
Variety of exercise beneficial
Aerobic exercise was the most commonly used in studies, with walking at the head of the field. Strength or resistance training also was involved – either alone or with aerobic exercise – and a few studies included mind-body exercises such as yoga or tai chi. All were found to be beneficial to thinking skills.
After evaluating the data, the researchers found that in healthy people and those with cognitive impairment longer term exposure to exercise – the 52 hours – improved the brain’s processing speed. In healthy people, that same amount of exercise also improved executive function – the ability to manage time, pay attention and achieve goals.
“Only the total length of time exercising could be linked to improved thinking skills, but our results may also provide further insight,” Gomes-Osman said. “With a majority of participants being sedentary when they first enrolled in a study, our research suggests that using exercise to combat sedentary behaviour may be a reason why thinking skills improved.”
The paper published in Neurology Clinical Practice.