2015 seemed to be the year of the exercise revelations. Exercise science has come a long way and some of their most intriguing discoveries happened this year. Most new studies focused on previously unexplored links between physical activity and cognitive health, but that’s not all!
Exercise and Your Brain
Two new studies have made exciting discoveries about the effects of exercise on the brain. The first one, performed by Japanese scientists, found that the brains of fit older men were almost as efficient as the brains of young people. This finding meant that the aerobically fit older men’s brains used fewer resources during thinking than the brains of out-of-shape men of the same age, just as a fit body can use less energy to perform the same physical task as one that is less fit.
The second such study was conducted on twins and found that the twin with the greater amount of muscular leg strength was more likely through time to perform better on cognitive tests than the twin with weaker legs.
The Frequency of Going to the Gym
Another important study focused on how long and frequently you need to go to the gym to reap its benefits. Of course any amount of exercise is better than nothing, but going more frequently has significantly more benefits. In one study, healthy older women who completed a year-long, twice-weekly program of light resistance training showed fewer and smaller lesions in their brain’s white matter afterward than women of the same age who had completed a stretching and balance-training program or gone to the gym only once a week. White matter connects and passes messages between different portions of the brain, so it is critical for memory and thinking. As for how long you should workout, one hour a day of moderate activity is considered optimal, but less time for more intense workouts is appropriate as well.
Exercise and Aging
Another study concluded that physical activity of any type and in almost any amount seemed to keep people physiologically young by reducing the fraying and shortening of their telomeres, which are tiny organic caps on the ends of our chromosomes. Telomeres generally decline in length with age, just as the functions of the cell that contain them slow and degrade. Short telomeres indicate, in effect, that a cell is biologically old, no matter what its chronological age. So if you want to stay “young” for as long as possible, I’d start hitting the gym now!