How Many Hours a Week Should Seniors Exercise to Slow Down Aging in the Brain?

According to a new study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, committing to an aerobic workout routine as we age can have a dramatic effect on the health of our brains.

Researchers at Rutgers University took a peak into the brains of seniors once they start to work out. Specifically, they analyzed the hippocampus — the common center for consolidating memories — which often begins to slip in function as we creep up in years. It’s a common issue across the country; one in nine Americans report memory issues after the age of 45, while one in 14 Americans develop dementia (usually Alzheimer’s) after the age of 65.

The scientists recruited a group of volunteers over the age of 60 and had some of them keep up a sedentary lifestyle, while others started attending hour-long dance classes, twice a week, for 20 weeks. They scanned brain activity during these weeks, then compared cognitive tests at the end of the period to those administered at the beginning.

Overall, the consistent exercisers exhibited more youthful, dynamic brain activity than those who sat around for five months. Their medial temporal lobes were more likely to “light up” (show recognition) and synchronize connections. That sort of activity not only allows people to retain information — it makes sure they can apply it to new situations and continue to grow, even as they get older.

It feels like every few weeks or so we see another published study championing the virtues of working out as we age. The difference in these studies is in the details — an exercise routine can help your heart, or your knees, or in this case, your brain. But broadly speaking, they’re all reaching for the same thing: longevity. It’s not about achieving life expectancy for the sake of it. It’s about living quality years, where your body and brain remain on your side.

As this study offers, that doesn’t have to mean running marathons or beasting through HIIT workouts into your 70s. Just two dancing classes a week can make a difference. Whether you’re over 60 or decades away, don’t waste time on getting that routine going.

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