Exercise for Cognitive Brain Health

The population older than 60 years will reach 2 billion by 2050, and their highest health-related concern is being “mentally sharp.”Physiologic changes to the aging brain, also known as cognitive aging are complex and highly varied, resulting in difficulty projecting the trajectory of cognitive decline and identifying transition to pathologic states. 

Physical exercise can promote cognitive brain health and counteract many of the effects of cognitive aging. 

There are more than a thousand clinical trials that have evaluated the effects of exercise on cognitive function in older adults, and recently a group of researchers performed a systematic review of those studies to summarize the current knowledge. Their study appears in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice. 

Combination of Aerobic and Strength Training to Achieve a Better Result

They evaluated 98 randomized clinical trials that included a total of 11,061 older adults with different exercise models, such as aerobic, resistance, combined, and mind-body exercises. 

The average exercise dose from all included studies was 1 hour a day, 3 times per week, for 60 hours distributed over 25 weeks. The average intensity in aerobic interventions was moderate relative to the HRmax (60%–80%).

The researchers found that there is enough evidence to support the use of exercise for the promotion of cognitive brain health in older adults and that the best thing to do is to combine aerobic with resistance (strength) training, and mind-body exercise in order to achieve a greater result. 

They also found that exercising for at least 52 hours is associated with improved cognitive performance in older adults with and without cognitive impairment. Also, improvements in processing speed/attention, executive function, and global cognition were most stable and consistently associated with exercise participation. 


Gomes-Osman J, Cabral DF, Morris TP, McInerney K, Cahalin LP, Rundek T, Oliveira A, Pascual-Leone A. Exercise for cognitive brain health in aging: A systematic review for an evaluation of dose. Neurol Clin Pract. 2018 Jun;8(3):257-265. doi: 10.1212/CPJ.0000000000000460. PMID: 30105166; PMCID: PMC6075983. 

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