You don’t have to run marathons or bike miles to reap the benefits of exercise. Another new study has found even more evidence that moderate, near daily exercise is good for health.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that this kind of exercise can improve brain function by making the mind more efficient in completing memory tasks. Adults who were between 60 and 88 years old and were previously physically inactive took part in a 12-week exercise program. The program involved walking on a treadmill for a total of 150 minutes weekly – the typical exercise recommendation for older adults.

After the exercise program, brain scans showed a decrease in intensity of brain activity during memory tasks. This is important because it reveals that the brain was more easily able to recall information, meaning exercise can boost memory by helping our brains work more efficiently. This was true of both adults with normal brain function and those who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

Memory loss is normal as we age, but a certain level of memory loss can indicate a risk for Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. J. Carson Smith, an assistant professor of Kinesiology at University of Maryland, these results are promising because they give people at risk for Alzheimer’s or people who want to boost their memory in general a practical way to do so.

“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency – basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” Smith said. “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”

Safe exercising for older adults
In general, it’s best to talk to your doctor before you begin a new exercise routine. He or she can make recommendations based on your physical needs. Some older adults like to use personal trainers. Whenever you begin a new exercise program, the best thing to do is start slowly and build up the length of your workout.

The National Institute on Aging has a great resource for staying active, called Go4Life. It’s informative and complete with explanations and illustrated examples of stretches and exercises for strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.

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