If you are in your 40s or 50s and think it’s too late to start an exercise program, think again. A recent study from the National Institute on Aging says exercise can help you mentally as well as physically.
“Research has shown that exercise holds many advantages for older adults when it comes to the health of their bodies,” says Michael Stouder, MD, a family medicine physician with Mission Heritage Medical Group in Foothill Ranch. “For instance, working out with weights helps strengthen the bones, which can guard against osteoporosis, and balancing exercises make seniors less susceptible to falls. Plus, exercising can help maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of disease. “
But exercise can also help maintain the health of the mind, Dr. Stouder adds. The new study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, focused on the effect of midlife cardiorespiratory fitness on brain function in later years. Using treadmill tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure participants’ physical and mental strength, the study authors suggest active middle-age adults who don’t exhibit any cognitive health issues can have stronger brain activity when they are seniors.
“The areas of the brain that appeared to benefit include those that govern language, memory, perception and the ability to recognize objects,” Dr. Stouder says.
It’s not the first study to suggest that exercise boosts the brain. For example, a 2014 Neurology report found that participants who were physically active in their 20s and 30s had better brain function in middle age. And a Finnish study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine that same year stated that people who self-identified as unfit had a higher risk of dementia, compared to those who were more active.
If you are in midlife and would like to start an exercise regimen, Dr. Stouder suggests talking with your physician, especially if you have preexisting health conditions, and aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. “If you are just starting out, walking is great exercise. As you progress in your fitness, aim for a mix of cardio and strength training, as well as some stretching exercises for flexibility.”