Researchers here analyze the results from dozens of papers in which exercise was shown to have a beneficial effect on cognitive function in older adults. The broad consensus is that the mechanisms for this effect primarily involve vascular health. There are numerous ways in which the cardiovascular system is linked to the function of the brain, ranging from the pace at which small blood vessels suffer structural failures and damage brain tissue to the capability to deliver sufficient nutrients to brain cells. Vascular dementia is the name given to the end stages of blood vessel failure and loss of sufficient blood supply to the brain, and it is quite common in patients found to be suffering any form of cognitive decline.
A combination of aerobic and resistance exercises can significantly boost the brain power of the over 50s, finds the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date. The effects were evident irrespective of the current state of an individual's brain health, the analysis shows. Physical exercise for older adults is seen as a promising means of warding off or halting a decline in brain health and cognitive abilities. Yet the evidence for its benefits is inconclusive, largely because of overly restrictive inclusion criteria in the reviews published to date, say the researchers. In a bid to try and plug some of these gaps, they systematically reviewed 39 relevant studies published up to the end of 2016 to assess the potential impact of varying types, intensities, and durations of exercise on the brain health of the over 50s. They included aerobic exercise; resistance training (such as weights); multi-component exercise, which contains elements of both aerobic and resistance training; tai chi; and yoga in their analysis.
They analysed the potential impact of these activities on overall brain capacity (global cognition); attention (sustained alertness, including the ability to process information rapidly); executive function (processes responsible for goal oriented behaviours); memory (storage and retrieval); and working memory (short term application of found information). Pooled analysis of the data showed that exercise improves the brain power of the over 50s, irrespective of the current state of their brain health. Aerobic exercise significantly enhanced cognitive abilities while resistance training had a pronounced effect on executive function, memory, and working memory. The evidence is strong enough to recommend prescribing both types of exercise to improve brain health in the over 50s, say the researchers.