A recent study from McMaster University examined the impact of exercise on the brain and found that high-intensity workouts improve memory in older adults.
The finding has widespread implications for treating dementia, a catastrophic disease that affects approximately half a million Canadians and is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade.
The study is published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism. The lead author is Jennifer Heisz, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology.
In the study, the team recruited dozens of sedentary but otherwise healthy older adults between the ages of 60 and 88 who were monitored over a 12-week period and participated in three sessions per week.
Some performed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) while a separate control group engaged in stretching only.
The HIIT included four sets of high-intensity exercise on a treadmill for four minutes, followed by a recovery period.
The MICT included one set of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for nearly 50 minutes.
The team found older adults in the HIIT group had a substantial increase in high-interference memory compared to the MICT or control groups.
This form of memory allows us to distinguish one car from another of the same make or model, for example.
Seniors who exercised using short, bursts of activity saw an improvement of up to 30% in the memory performance while participants who worked out moderately saw no improvement, on average.
The team also found that improvements in fitness levels directly correlated with improvement in memory performance.
The findings suggest that intensity is critical.
The team says this work will help to inform the public on exercise prescriptions for brain health so they know exactly what types of exercises boost memory and keep dementia at bay.
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