Specifically, people ages 50 and older experienced boosts to brain health following exercise sessions lasting 45 minutes to an hour at a minimum of moderate intensity. The study was recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers analyzed 39 studies published through 2016 in an attempt to look at the effects of exercise on brain health in this age group. They examined aerobic exercise, resistance training (i.e. weights) and a combination of the two. They also studied yoga and tai chi.
Aerobic exercise led to greater improvements in cognitive abilities (think: reading and learning, reports the BBC), and resistance training enhanced memory and executive function. The status of a person's current brain health was immaterial.
The research offers further incentive for health care providers to recommend that their patients undertake moderate aerobic and resistance exercise as much as possible, according to a news release.
However, some experts worry the findings could have unintended consequences.
"It could lead to increased pressure for the 50-plus age group to exercise more in order to stay mentally healthy, which is good advice but also overlooks the fact that as we age it's increasingly difficult to engage in physical activity, as our bodies are simply less capable of it," Dean Burnett, of Cardiff University, told the BBC.
Limitations included that the studies analyzed were only ones where exercise was supervised.
The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity every week, 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity or a mix of the two. The research team would like to see future research go further to uncover what "prescription of training" would "promote the greatest benefits to cognitive function," according to the study.
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