- Seniors who walked regularly for 12 weeks had stronger brain function compared to sedentary folks in a new study.
- Their brains even showed stronger neural connections after 12 weeks of exercise.
- The study builds on previous research that suggests exercise slows aging in the brain and body.
Staving off early dementia might be as simple as taking a quick walk.
A group of previously sedentary folks in their 70s and 80s — including some experiencing mild cognitive decline — who began briskly walking for 30 minutes four times a week saw improved brain function in just a few months in a new study.
During the small study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease Reports, 33 participants were given memory tests and then half were placed on an exercise plan for 12 weeks. The researchers varied the walking speed for each participant based on their heart rate, but brisk walking is typically defined as going around 3 miles per hour.
The folks who exercised, including those with cognitive decline, performed better on memory tests after the 12-week period, while the sedentary cohort did not improve. Brain scans of the exercising cohort even showed they had stronger neural connections — a sign of strong brain function — after the 12-week period.
The findings build
s on existing research that shows how exercise helps keep our brains sharp as we age. Older folks who exercise three times a week performed significantly better on tests that measure time management and information processing in the brain compared to inactive seniors, a 2018 review of nearly 100 studies indicated. Neuroscientists have found exercise stimulates the growth of neurons in the brain, leading to improved memory.
It's not just data — seniors in their 80s, 90s, and 100s who haven't experienced dementia or cognitive decline told Insider they credit at least part of their longevity to their commitment to regular exercise, including going on daily walks.
Beyond keeping our brain from aging, exercise helps other parts of our body stay healthy for longer. Older people who spend less time sitting have a lower risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
The best part is you don't need to be a gym rat to get the anti-aging effects of exercise, as the new study suggested. Something as simple as brisk walking might shave 16 years off your biological age, an analysis of genetic data from 405,981 middle-aged UK residents suggested.
All in all, to keep our minds sharp as we age, "exercise does seem to be key," J. Carson Smith, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland at College Park and the study's lead author, told the Washington Post.