Regular exercise leads to improved cognition.
Most of us generally believe that a healthy lifestyle delivers mental health advantages. There’s even a Latin phrase for it: Mens sana in corpore sano. Translated, this means ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. Until quite recently, this proposition was regarded – at best – as only intuitively true. It simply expressed the theory that physical exercise is linked to mental wellbeing. Now, based on some compelling new research recently published in the U.K., it’s an established fact.
9,000 people can’t be wrong
More than 9,000 individuals in the U.K. – whose progress was tracked from the age of 11 – took part in a research study, the findings from which were published in the distinguished mainstream journal Psychological Medicine.
Widely covered by the mainstream media in the U.K., notably The Telegraph and The Independent, interviews were systematically conducted at regular age intervals to monitor levels of exercise. Participants also undertook tests of memory, attention and learning. Those who had exercised two to three times per month or more from the age of 11 scored higher in the tests than those who had not.
In other words, the study demonstrates that lifelong exercise can lead to improved brain function in later life. People perform better in mental tests at the age of 50 if they have engaged in regular intense activity, such as playing sport, running, swimming or working out in the gym, since childhood.
Exercise a key component in preventing cognitive decline
Study leader, Dr. Alex Dregan from King’s College, London, observed in the research report: ‘As exercise represents a key component of lifestyle interventions to prevent cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, public health interventions to promote lifelong exercise have the potential to reduce the personal and social burden associated with these conditions in late adult years.’
In the U.K., government guidelines say that adults aged 19 to 64 should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. ‘It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind,’ wrote Dr Dregan.
He went on to assert: ‘However, not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their cognitive well-being in the long-term and this is something that needs to be explored further.’
Research also suggests that the harder you work out, the bigger the benefit
The research report suggested that setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more effective method for improving levels of exercise within the wider population.
Intense exercise appeared to provide greater benefit for the brain than regular moderate activity, the report also found. ‘Clinical trials are required to further explore the benefits of exercise for cognitive well-being among older adults, whilst examining the effects of exercise with varying levels of frequency and intensity,’ Dr. Dregan stated.
Government of Canada exercise guidelines
As a wealth advisor whose practice includes significant numbers of pre-retirees and retirees, this issue is of considerable interest to me. The good news is that Health Canada is strongly supportive of the – now unarguable truth – that physical activity improves health and wellbeing: Says Health Canada: ‘It reduces stress, strengthens the heart and lungs, increases energy levels, helps you maintain and achieve a healthy body weight and it improves your outlook on life.’
Specifically for seniors, Health Canada encourages engaging in weight-bearing physical activity to reduce the rate of bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Regular physical activity, they agree, also maintains strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, and can help reduce the risk of falls.
The bottom line? Being physically active not only strengthens your body, it also makes you feel good about yourself.
Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management