How exercise can improve brain health

We should all be aware that, as well as having an impact on our wider wellbeing, lifestyle factors also have an influence on our brain health and thinking skills, says Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK

A study from the University of Canberra published today tells us that aerobic exercise can improve our cognitive abilities, such as thinking, reading, learning and reasoning, while muscle training – for example, using weights – can benefit memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise.

Losing thinking skills is often seen as an inevitable part of getting older, so it’s good news that this latest study – a systematic review of randomised controlled trials on exercise and cognitive function in people aged 50+ – summaries a large body of evidence that clearly shows the benefits of exercise and physical activity to help keep your brain healthy.

We know that the desire to stay mentally sharp is a concern for older people so it will be welcome for many to learn that, through leading an active lifestyle and exercising, you may be able to protect your brain against ageing and even boost your memory and thinking skills.

A 2016 report by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) echoes these findings, by highlighting that people who participate in “purposeful exercise” show beneficial changes in brain structure and function.

However, it is important to note that, while exercise is beneficial for our brain health as we age, separate research from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, showed that older people who sit down for prolonged periods per day are biologically older than those who do not.

So, advice from Age UK, is for older people not only to exercise daily or increase their physical activity levels but also to avoid sitting down for long periods of time. It could make a difference to your long term health and to your risk of chronic illnesses.

The good news is that it’s never too late to become more physically active whatever your age or current health status. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to exercise and physical activity but, where possible, challenge yourself a little bit more over time. For example, if you are currently not very active, start by stretching and walking at a leisurely pace.

There are many ways to incorporate more movement into everyday life as part of a physically active lifestyle. Some examples taken from our ‘Staying Sharp’ online hub include:

  • walking instead of driving where safe and possible
  • if driving, parking further away from your destination and walking
  • getting off the bus a stop early and walking
  • taking the stairs instead of the escalator or lift
  • engaging in hobbies and sports that involve movement, for instance gardening, yoga or dancing.
  • If you have mobility problems then you can try chair exercises with your feet positioned at a 90 degree angle on the floor to keep your core strong.

For more info on the benefits of physical activity and how to stay sharp in later life, visit Age UK’s online hub here.


Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

One thought on “How exercise can improve brain health”

  1. We have 3 community websites which have been wonderful in bringing me back to the wider world. I now have 3 little dogs I babysit in my own home and have met their lovely owners, who are now also my friends. I have started a yoga class and am now looking to join an art group to learn watercolour and pastels painting. Although I have emphysema, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, I refuse to give in to these conditions and have adapted my life to encompass them. Age-related ailments need not hold one back from achiving other goals.

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