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York University and McGill University research suggests that older men who exercise regularly may have better improvements in their cognitive function or executive function than older women.

This study included adults with an average age of 67 who reported daily physical activity levels, height, weight, age, sex, and resting heart rate which was used to measure cardiorespiratory fitness; brain imaging was also conducted to record nerve function within specific brain networks and among all networks.

Fitness levels can affect the brain’s grey matter which determines cognitive function. Women were observed to have exhibited higher local network efficiency and lower global network efficiency, but the men experienced greater improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness; findings suggest that gender makes a difference in overall effect of exercise on the brain.

“Our findings that cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with brain function in a sex-dependent manner underscore the importance of considering sex as a factor when studying associations between exercise and brain health in older adulthood.”

According to a study published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice older individuals may need at least 52 hours of exercise over 6 months to improve reasoning and processing skills, and exercise even at low intensity done for this duration can have the same benefits.

This study assessed 98 randomised trials that studied more than 11,000 seniors who exercised for at least 4 days a week.

Memory and reasoning skills were compared to those who didn’t exercise; 59% of the participants were deemed clinically healthy, 26% had signs of mild cognitive impairment, and 15% had fully developed dementia.

Walking was the most common type of exercise; some studies used other aerobic exercises such as dancing or cycling;and others assessed effects of aerobic exercise combined with strength/resistance training. Still other studies examined strength/resistance training alone, and several others used yoga or tai chi.

Older people who exercised for at least 52 hours over an average of 6 months were found to process information better. This effect was seen among the clinically healthy and in those with MCI. Healthy participants also improved executive function.

Those who exercised for only 34 hours over 6 months were not found to have gained any benefits regardless of their mental health.

All forms of exercise were found to be equally beneficial for thinking skills of older people.

The researchers concluded that only duration of exercise can improve cognitive function. Based on their findings they suggest that longer term exercise programs may be needed to promote the benefits of exercise in thinking skills.

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