Boosting Brain Power Over 50

An article by Tim Newman has shown some ways to boost the brainpower in adults over 50.  A lot of research has been conducted on the potential cognitive benefits of exercise on mental performance in older adults, and until now the results have been inconclusive.  This new review gives a fresh look at the data.

Our cognitive progress tends to suffer as we age and finding a way to halt or reduce this decline could make a huge difference to billions of lives.  One of the interventions is exercise.  There have been many researchers that have attempted to prove whether or not it can stave off age-related mental decline and neurodegenerative conditions.  Meta-analyses and early research have demonstrated strong and positive results over recent years, but published reviews have not reported such strong effects.

There is recently published reviews and meta-analyses that are inconclusive due to their restrictive inclusion criteria.  Some focused on just one type of exercise and others limited their search to a narrow date range.  The latest review is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and looks at aerobic exercise, resistance training, multicomponent exercise, tai chi and yoga.


Some of the cognitive parameters looked at include:

  • Brain capacity-global cognition
  • Attention-sustained alertness including speed of information processing
  • Executive function-including goal-oriented behaviors
  • Memory-storage and retrieval
  • Working memory-the part of short-term memory that deals with immediate conscious perceptual and language processing

This analysis showed that brainpower of people aged 50 and older, regardless of their current brain health, was improved with exercise.  Aerobic exercise enhanced cognitive abilities while resistance training had a positive influence on executive function, memory and working memory.  These results were strong enough to recommend both exercise types to bolster brain health in those over 50.

But….how much exercise is needed?   They believe that a session of moderate to vigorous intensity lasting between 45 and 60 minutes was beneficial to brain health and any frequency had positive effects.  An exercise program with components of both aerobic and resistance type training with moderate intensity and at least 45 minutes per session is beneficial to cognitive function in adults over 50, on as many days of the week as possible.  Tai chi was also found to improve cognitive capabilities as a low-impact exercise.  Those who cannot physically cope with a more intense regime could use tai chi.   however, this conclusion was based on just a small number of studies.  It would be advisable to check with your physician before attempting any exercise regimes.

There is a lot of debate on this topic but scientists believe there are a number of ways that exercise can help to stave off dementia and other degenerative neurological conditions.  These include the promotion of neurogenesis, angiogenesis, synaptic plasticity, decreased pro-inflammatory processes and reduced cellular damage due to oxidative stress.  The analysis was limited to studies that looked at supervised exercise. This type of intervention can be cost effective or even free and have large-scale benefits in improving the lives of millions of older adults.

Dr Fredda Branyon