Exercise & Cognitive Function – how to keep your brain fit

Our Research Dietitian, Dr Michelle Harvie, updates us on the latest research into exercise and cognitive function.

We know that regular physical activity is important for reducing breast cancer risk. Doing 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week can lower breast cancer risk by 20%, but does this also help our brains?

Well it looks like the answer is yes!

The headlines are based on a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This study combined the results of 39 previous studies which had assessed if physical exercise improved brain function in people aged over 50. The overall finding was that physical activity programmes which included at least 45 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic (cardio) and resistance-type (muscle) training, improved memory and executive function (ability to plan and organise).


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Across the studies around 60% of people in the exercise groups had higher levels of cognition than the groups who had not exercised. The effect was consistent across the studies but was not enough to massively enhance people’s brain power. The authors recommend an exercise programme including both aerobic and resistance-type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 min per session, on as many days of the week as possible.

Other research has shown that being a healthy weight, eating a Mediterranean diet, not smoking, limiting alcohol and staying socially active can also reduce cognitive decline.