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Importance of Exercise for Brain Health with Ageing

We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know how good it is as we age, especially for our brain health?

Research has shown that exercise can improve cognitive function in people who are concerned about their memory or have slight memory decline, and can reduce the risk of further decline.

Only until now has there been a specific guideline designed by the University of Melbourne and supported by the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre (DCRC) that outlines the amount of exercise for older adults to incorporate into their daily lives.

With no specific medications currently available to protect the brain from decline, physical activity is an important aspect of maintaining brain health, along with other lifestyle factors like having a healthy diet, staying mentally active and maintaining an active social life.

The guidelines:

If you are considering starting physical activity, it is important to remember to slowly build up over time and always consult your GP to ensure you have no pre-existing health conditions that would hinder you from exercising.

The guidelines are designed with brain health in mind, but can also help with other health benefits, including overall wellbeing, improved mental health, better physical health and better management of other health conditions.

Aim to do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate or 90 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity. This should be combined with trying to be physically active during daily tasks.

Moderate is defined as a level of intensity at which one starts to sweat and needs to breathe a bit harder (like fast walking, swimming or bike riding). Vigorous is more intense and involves feeling out of breath (activities could include running, very fast swimming or aerobic exercise in the gym).

Perform additional resistance training (also known as strength training) at least twice a week. This should also be combined with daily tasks that help improve muscle strength.

Undertake activities that help improve or maintain balance and reduce the risk of falls, such as walking heel-to-toe or rocking onto heels and toes (ensuring safety by doing exercises near a table or a chair).

Talk to a GP (or physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) before changing your physical activity routine to ensure that your plan is safe and takes your medical history into account.

These guidelines have been designed in particular for older Australians who are worried about their memory and other aspects of their thinking as they age. This concern is common and often described as subjective cognitive decline (SCD). When assessed medically (for example in a memory clinic), many people with SCD have normal cognition for their age, but some experience objective changes.

This often leads to a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The changes noticed are not severe enough to cause significant problems with daily tasks and are not the same as dementia. However, both SCD and MCI are associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia in the future.

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