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Exercise lowers risk of cognitive decline experts agree

Published on 21 July 2016 10:00 AM

Getting regular exercise can lower the risk of cognitive decline and can even change our brain structure and improve its functioning, according to a new evidence-based consensus statement issued today by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an independent collaboration of scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts from around the world.

Based on the available scientific evidence, the GCBH has concluded that:

  • Physical activity has a positive impact on brain health
  • People who participate in purposeful exercise show beneficial changes in brain structure and function
  • People who lead a physically active lifestyle have a lower risk of cognitive decline

However, GCBH has stopped short of stating that physical activity can reduce the risk of brain diseases that cause dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, concluding that there is not yet sufficient evidence.

What activities are good to keep your brain healthy?

To keep your brain healthy, the GCBH's experts advise you should lead a physically-active lifestyle, including daily activities such as walking, using the stairs, or gardening.

In addition to this, you should carry out 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity that raises the heart rate (for example, brisk walking, swimming, or cycling), and two or more days of moderate-intensity, muscle-strengthening activities (such as lifting weights or squats) on a weekly basis.

And for those people who are not currently physically active, the GCBH offers these practical tips:

  • Slowly increase your level of activity challenging yourself more over time.
  • Try new physical activities and exercises that you think you will enjoy.
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator whenever possible.
  • Do a range of exercises, including strength training, aerobics, and those that improve flexibility and balance.
  • Consider doing physical activities and exercise with other people to help stay motivated.
  • Be patient and persistent.

It's never too late to realise the benefits of exercise

Commenting on the findings, Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director said, ‘We know that the desire to stay mentally sharp is the number one concern for older adults. The GCBH report shows us that staying physically active throughout the day and getting weekly exercise can help our brain health as we age.' 

Group Chief Executive of Age UK, Tom Wright, said: ‘Cognitive decline as you age is often seen as an inevitable part of getting older, yet people who lead active lifestyles and exercise have the power to protect their brain against ageing and even boost our memory and thinking skills.'

‘The good news that it is never too late to become more physically active and realise the benefits of exercise whatever your age or current health status. There are so many health benefits to be had simply by making the decision to move your body more throughout the day as well as setting time aside for more purposeful exercise that gets your heart rate up.'

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent organisation created by AARP - the leading US not-for-profit organisation for people aged 50+ - in collaboration with Age UK to provide trusted information on how all of us can maintain and improve our brain health.

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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