A single exercise session improves the cognitive function of older people

There was good news for the brain recently with the US approving Aduhelm, a drug that can slow cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The team at CP+R reviewed a recent study that shows that an acute session of exercise improves the cognitive function of older people.

The effects are transient, so the next step is to look at how this could lead to longer term improvements.

Why brain health declines with age:

As we age, brain volume decreases, and declines can occur in cognitive tasks such as memory and decision making.

Evidence tells us that the two key blood markers that play a part in these aging factors are BDNF and IGF-1.

BDNF is a protein located in the brain which plays a part in nerve development and neural plasticity (the brain’s ability to establish new connections and mould itself) .

IGF-1 also influences nerve growth, neural firing rate and depolarisation (in other words how effectively the nerves communicate with each other), and can enhance cognitive function.

Therefore, a decline in one or both of these can affect brain health.

The study:

The study looked at thirty men aged 60 years or older who were generally fit and well with no severe or chronic health conditions. The men were split into three groups; a strength training group, endurance training group and control group.

The strength and endurance groups each performed one training session. The control group did not train.

The results:

The results from just one exercise session were extremely interesting.

Following the session, both the endurance and strength groups showed increases in BDNF levels, with both groups showing equal improvement.

The control group showed no improvement.

The same outcomes were found for the IGF-1 test.

The really exciting part:

The reason these results are so interesting is that while it has long been thought, and to some extent proven, that exercise is good for brain health, this is the first study to show that an acute bout of exercise can improve brain function immediately.

Whilst the effects are transient, this could lead to short term improvements in memory, neuroplasticity and general cognitive function. More research is needed to confirm this.

It also raises the question of whether bouts of exercise could bring about short-term improvement in those with degenerative cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s.

While purely hypothetic at this point, it looks increasingly hopeful that a combination of new drugs, exercise and other interventions can lead to better long-term brain health for older people, and probably younger people too.

We are following the research closely so watch this space.

Words of wisdom:

“If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t” – Lyall Watson


With thanks to @30daysreplay for the inspiring image.