Are you really getting up there in age and wondering if exercise – which you’ve hardly ever done – can still benefit your brain health?

You’re never too old to experience the physical health benefits of exercise, including improved muscle strength, an easier time with the tasks of daily living and self-care, as well as benefits to your heart.

But can the brain be too old to benefit from exercise?

The May 13, 2020, online issue of Neurology® reports encouraging news for people over 65 who want to take up aerobic exercise.

And these benefits can occur after only six months of regular aerobic exercise, even in former couch potatoes.

Since exercise gets blood moving more throughout the body, why would the brain be exempt from this?

Of course, it isn’t. It gets more blood from structured aerobics. This includes the areas responsible for high levels of thinking and verbal fluency, says study author Marc J. Poulin, PhD.

The Study

The mean age of the 206 adults was 66; none had a history of memory or heart problems.

At the beginning of the study they were given memory and thinking tests and also an ultrasound to measure blood flow in their brains.

Physical testing was repeated after three months, and physical plus thinking tests were repeated at six months.

The Exercise

The aerobic activity was supervised and three times per week, beginning with 20 minutes on average per day to an average of at least 40 minutes.

Additionally the participants were asked to exercise on their own once a week.

The Results

After six months their higher brain functions improved by 5.7%. Verbal fluency, which is how fast one can retrieve information, went up by 2.4%.

Blood flow to their brains had increased by 2.8%. This increase was associated with numerous improvements in cognition that usually decline with age.

Study Limitations

There was no control group: people who didn’t exercise for those six months.

However, the researchers tried to control for this by testing the subjects twice over a six month period preceding the start of the study.

Also, that one day a week of unsupervised exercise may have come with inaccurate reporting of duration.

But come on, it just looks like so much more than coincidence that at the six month mark, these older participants experienced improved brain function.

Exercise no Matter what Age, Body or Brain

But brain health aside, you certainly already know that there’s endless replicated studies showing that aerobic activity benefits many aspects of physical health.

Guidelines for Older Treadmill Users

You can reap the same body and brain benefits with other modes of cardio exercise such as with pedaling machines and low impact group fitness classes.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: Shutterstock/Martina Ebel