Mid-life brain boosting

Youth has a lot to be said for it. Sure there is the angst and fever of getting started in life to deal with and there is the challenging dichotomy of feeling that you know everything but having experienced nothing. Weighing against these negatives though are the youthful lack of responsibility and a body and brain (note the deliberate avoidance of the term “mind” there) that are at their peak and can bounce back from just about anything. While middle-age has a lot to commend it in terms of understanding gained and having achieved a level of competence it is also true that the body and mind start to demand slightly more maintenance and upkeep. Good news though has come from Canadian research which shows that exercise can do both for you.

The research centred on a type of exercise called HIT (high intensity training). In this form of exercise you exercise in short bursts but to the maximum of your capacity. So you might do bench presses at the heaviest weight you can manage for 10 to 12 repetitions until you can do no more. You might then have 30 seconds of light exercise like walking before doing another high intensity activity.

For the new study middle-aged men and women undertook HIT in the form of high and low intensity exercise on stationary bikes. For four months they had two sessions of HIT per week and two sessions of weight training (resistance training) per week. All of the subjects were overweight at the beginning of the study with BMIs between 28 and 31 (a BMI of 25-30 is regarded as overweight, while 30+ is obese). Throughout the period of the study the subjects were given tests to measure aerobic capacity, brain oxygenation, cardiovascular risk, body composition, and cognitive function.

The results showed that going on the exercise program improved cognitive performance (including memory and thinking ability) in these middle-age people. Using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) they were also able to detect via changes in the volume and oxygenation of the blood that blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain also improved significantly. As well, VO2 max (a measure of the body’s ability to utilise oxygen during exercise) improved dramatically.

So for middle-aged folk (and people of every age really) exercise is the ultimate “two for one offer”; you get improvements in both brain and body function just through the one activity. Surely that’s an offer you can’t refuse.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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