The Type of Exercise That Most Benefits Memory, Reasoning and Mental Flexibility

Study compared the mental effects of aerobic exercise, weight training and balance and co-ordination.

Study compared the mental effects of aerobic exercise, weight training and balance and co-ordination.

A new study of older people finds that there is no need to follow a special training programme to boost cognitive function.

Any type of exercise improves mental abilities: it doesn’t matter if it’s aerobic or strength or just improving balance and flexibility.

It didn’t even seem to matter if the participants were getting much fitter — as long as they got moving, they got the mental benefits of exercise.

For the research, people between the ages of 62 and 84 were put into three different groups (Berryman et al., 2014).

Two of the groups did strength training and high-intensity aerobic exercise.

A third group carried out activities that trained balance, co-ordination and other gross motor functions.

This third group did activities like throwing balls at targets, learning to juggle and yoga-type stretches.

Although the first two groups were the only ones to get physically fitter, all three groups showed similar benefits to executive function.

Dr. Louis Bherer, one of the study’s authors, explained:

“Our study targeted executive functions, or the functions that allow us to continue reacting effectively to a changing environment.

We use these functions to plan, organize, develop strategies, pay attention to and remember details, and manage time and space.”

Dr. Nicolas Berryman, the study’s lead author, said:

“For a long time, it was believed that only aerobic exercise could improve executive functions.

More recently, science has shown that strength-training also leads to positive results.

Our new findings suggest that structured activities that aim to improve gross motor skills can also improve executive functions, which decline as we age.

I would like seniors to remember that they have the power to improve their physical and cognitive health at any age and that they have many avenues to reach this goal.”

For younger people, it may well be that cardiovascular fitness — the kind you get from things like jogging — is better for your cognitive function.

But this study suggests that for older people, it’s less about the type of activity, and more about getting activity of any kind.

Image credit: A Health Blog

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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