How aerobic exercise makes old

How aerobic exercise makes oldies fitter, smarter and chirpier

As an added bonus, you’ll even be able to remember where you put the car keys, a Canadian study of older former couch potatoes finds.

How aerobic exercise makes old

If you’re a slightly aged couch potato who has become even more sloth-like during lockdown – to the point where you’re more of a full sack of couch potatoes – then it’s time to begin thinking about how you’ll get back into shape when all this is behind us.

There are those who are walkers and runners, in which case you already have Uncle Cyril’s three-hour morning workout sessions at your disposal. But a number of folk prefer group training for the camaraderie, buzz and motivation it brings with it.

If you’re in your late ‘50s or ‘60s there’s also the problem of dodgy knees and bad backs being exacerbated by pounding roads and pavements.

So what should those who are a little greying around the edges be planning when the gyms and exercise classes are back in action?

You need just six months of aerobic exercise

A new study published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that older adults, even couch potatoes, need just six months of aerobic exercise to not only get physically fit again, but to perform better on certain thinking, verbal fluency and memory tests too.

So you’ll not only be better looking; you’ll also think smarter, sound smarter and remember where you left the car keys. Sounds like a bargain!

“As we all find out eventually, we lose a bit mentally and physically as we age. But even if you start an exercise programme later in life, the benefit to your brain may be immense,” said study author Dr Marc J. Poulin, from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Sure, aerobic exercise gets blood moving through your body. As our study found, it may also get blood moving to your brain, particularly in areas responsible for verbal fluency and executive functions. Our finding may be important, especially for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias and brain disease.”

Training group had an average age of 66

The study involved 206 adults who had an average age of 66 and no history of heart or memory problems. Participants were given thinking and memory tests at the start of the study, as well as an ultrasound to measure blood flow in the brain. Physical testing was repeated at three months, and thinking and physical testing repeated at the end of the six months.

Researchers found that after six months of exercise, participants improved by 5.7% on tests of executive function, which includes mental flexibility and self-correction. Verbal fluency, which tests how quickly you can retrieve information, increased by 2.4%.

“This change in verbal fluency is what you’d expect to see in someone five years younger,” Poulin noted.

Significant improvement in aspects of thinking

Before and after six months of aerobic activity, the participants’ average peak blood flow to the brain was measured using ultrasound and found to have increased by an average of 2.8%.

The increase in blood flow with exercise was associated with a number of modest but significant improvements in aspects of thinking that usually decline as we age, Poulin said.

“Our study showed that six months’ worth of vigorous exercise may pump blood to regions of the brain that specifically improve your verbal skills, as well as memory and mental sharpness,” Poulin observed. “At a time when these results would be expected to be decreasing due to normal aging, to have these types of increases is exciting.”

You can read more about the study here: