Link between exercise and brain health supported in new report

A collaborative group of health scholars and other experts convened by AARP has released a new report focusing on the potential for regular exercise to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

The Global Council on Brain Health report sought to reinforce the belief that daily physical activity that includes regular exercise — whether by brisk walking, cycling, strength training, group exercise classes or other means — also benefits brain health.

“Knowing there is strong scientific evidence that physical activity impacts adults’ ability to stay mentally fit should encourage people to exercise more,” said Marilyn Albert, the council’s chairwoman and the director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University.

The consensus statement from the council concluded, among other things, that people can change their behavior to become more physically active at any age, and those participating in purposeful exercise show beneficial changes in brain structure and function. It noted, however, that there is not yet sufficient evidence that exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

The group is urging people to follow previously published guidelines stating they should engage in 2½ hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, swimming, cycling) plus add twice-weekly (or more) muscle-strengthening activity such as weight-lifting or squats.

As part of encouraging older adults and others to get on track with the guidelines, the council recommended they should:

• Try new physical activity and exercises that they are likely to enjoy.

• Slowly increase the level of activity over time to boost the challenge.

• Engage in a variety of exercises instead of just one, and include those that improve flexibility and balance.

• Consider doing the activities with others if it will help in staying motivated.

• Be patient and persistent.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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