26.02.2024

Regular exercise improves memory in old age even if taken up in 50s and 60s

Jogging just once a month is enough to protect your memory in later life, research shows – even for couch potatoes who take it up in their 50s and 60s.

Scientists from University College London (UCL) tracked the exercise habits of 1,400 participants over 30 years.

When each person turned 69, the volunteers took a test to assess their memory, attention, language and verbal fluency.

Those classed as moderately active – meaning they partook in any physical activity one to four times a month – fared better than those who exercised less frequently than this.

At least 30 minutes of a range of activities, including badminton, swimming, fitness exercises, yoga, dancing, football, jogging or even just brisk walks, counted as one exercise session.

Jogging just once a month is enough to protect your memory in later life, research shows – even for couch potatoes who take it up in their 50s and 60s (stock photo)

Jogging just once a month is enough to protect your memory in later life, research shows ¿ even for couch potatoes who take it up in their 50s and 60s (stock photo)

Volunteers also completed a questionnaire at five points during the study – at ages 36, 43, 53, 60 to 64 and 69. Overall, 11 per cent of participants were physically inactive at all five points, while 15 per cent did some exercise at every stage.

The majority of the group – one in five – said they were exercising at least twice a month. Previous studies have suggested that exercising regularly can reduce the risk of developing dementia by a third.

Much of this research has focused on fitness in mid-life, with benefits found for those who do the NHS-recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.

But the researchers behind the new study say their results are proof that every little helps, and that it is never too late to start.

Dr Sarah-Naomi James, researcher at UCL and lead investigator of the trial, will assess whether the patterns in exercise can ultimately delay the onset of dementia

Dr Sarah-Naomi James, researcher at UCL and lead investigator of the trial, will assess whether the patterns in exercise can ultimately delay the onset of dementia

Dr Sarah-Naomi James, researcher at UCL and lead investigator of the trial, said her study ‘provides evidence for encouraging inactive adults to be active even to a small extent… at any point during adulthood’ to improve cognition and memory later in life.

Frequent exercise is said to improve blood flow within the brain, leading to increased activity in areas associated with learning and memory.

Dr James will continue to follow the cohort to assess whether the patterns in exercise can ultimately delay the onset of dementia.

‘We hope this will be the world’s first cradle-to-grave study – where we have studied people for their entire lives,’ she added.

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