In a new study, researchers found that regular exercise can improve brain function and may protect against dementia in middle-aged and older adults, with women benefitting almost twice as much as men.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Queensland.
In the study, the team used longitudinal data to examine the physical activity behavior and cognitive function of 16,700 Europeans aged between 54 and 75 over 13 years.
They found regular exercise improves cognitive function for both men and women—but the impact was greater for women.
More specifically, they found weekly moderate physical activity increased older people’s cognitive function on average by 5% for men and 14% for women.
The effect increased again for higher intensity physical activity.
There was an increase in cognitive function of 8% for men and 15% for women if they were both moderately and vigorously physically active every week.
Ultimately, the findings showed that physical activity has a potential, direct protective effect on cognitive decline and dementia, and women benefit more than men.
An example of moderate physical activity is going for a brisk walk, while vigorous physical activity might be running or circuit training.
The team says a growing aging population and the rising costs of dementia worldwide meant it was vital to invest in targeted efforts to prevent the disease.
Preventing dementia would reduce the burden on individuals, the health system and the economy—so the current findings are important for a range of groups including older people, doctors and policymakers.
The researchers hope to encourage older people to be active and potentially prevent dementia at an early stage, rather than trying to manage the disease through the healthcare system when it’s “too late”.
One author of the study is Sabrina Lenzen.
The study is published in Economics & Human Biology.