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To Mind Your Brain Health As You Age, Study Says Try This Exercise

Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Image by Tempura / iStock
July 26, 2021

As we get older, we all want to look out for our brain health and, namely, preserve our memory. According to a new study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers have identified the best form of exercise to help with this, plus why it's beneficial. Here's what they found.

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Looking at the effects of exercise.

For this study, researchers gathered 180 older adults who were considered healthy but inactive. They were separated into three groups, with one group focused on walking, one focused on dance, and one control group that did balancing and stretching exercises.

The groups met three times per week for six months. For the dancing group, their dance classes got progressively harder throughout the course of the study.

Before and after the six months, each of the participants had MRIs, as well as cognitive and cardiorespiratory tests, to see how their respective forms of exercise affected the brain.

What they found.

Based on the findings of this research, it would appear that aerobic exercise is the way to go when considering which exercises are most beneficial for the brain. In fact, the regions of the brain that bear the brunt of aging seem to benefit the most from aerobic exercise.

For the people in the walking and dancing groups, the researchers observed increased white matter following the study, particularly in areas that play a role in memory and executive function. The group who walked even had improved memory after the study and were better able to recall memories from their lives.

And as far as the group who did balancing and stretching moves, they did not see any brain benefits but rather a normal decline in white matter.

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The takeaway.

The bottom line is, after just six months of working out three times per week, the participants doing aerobic exercise achieved noticeable improvements in their brain health and memory. It's never too late to improve your brain health, which is certainly good news for anyone looking to get in better shape.

As graduate student and first author on the study Andrea Mendez Colmenares notes in a news release, she hopes their research offers a better understanding of white matter aging, and people will consider lifestyle interventions to help themselves (and their brains) as they age, "so they can live independently for longer and with better cognition."

While all types of exercise are important for various functions, if you're looking to preserve your brain health, this research suggests your best bets are aerobic exercises (like running, vigorous walking, swimming, or biking).

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Sarah Regan
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.