How much exercise is required to help improve thinking skills?

A systematic review for an evaluation of dose.

Exercising regularly performed better on thinking skills tests than those who did not.
Exercising regularly performed better on thinking skills tests than those who did not. Image: Pixabay

Exercise improve thinking skills. But there is no suggestion that exactly how much exercise is required. In order to find out the answer, scientists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine conducted a study where they reviewed all of the studies in which older adults were asked to exercise for at least four weeks and then take tests of thinking and memory skills.

The review included 98 randomized, controlled trials with an average of 11,061 members, whose normal age was 73. Of the aggregate members, 59 percent were sorted as healthy adults, 26 percent had a mild cognitive impairment and 15 percent had dementia. An aggregate of 58 percent did not frequently practice before being selected in an investigation.

The researchers collected data on exercise session length, intensity, weekly frequency and amount of exercise over time. Aerobic exercise was the most common type of exercise, with walking the most common aerobic exercise; others including biking and dancing. Some studies used a combination of aerobic exercise along with strength, or resistance training and some used strength training alone. A small number of studies used mind-body exercises such as yoga or Taichi.

Their results were compared to those of people who did not start a new exercise routine.

Researchers found that individuals who practiced a normal of no less than 52 hours over around a half year for around an hour every session may enhance their thinking skills. Interestingly, individuals who exercised for a normal of 34 hours over a similar time did not demonstrate any change in their thinking skills.

Gomes-Osman, the study’s author and director of the Neuromotor Plasticity Laboratory said, “These results suggest that a longer-term exercise program may be necessary to gain the benefits in thinking skills. We were excited to see that even people who participated in lower-intensity exercise programs showed a benefit to their thinking skills. Not everyone has the endurance or motivation to start a moderately intense exercise program, but everyone can benefit even from a less-intense plan.”

After assessing the greater part of the data, the analysts found that in both healthy people and individuals with cognitive impairment, longer-term introduction to work out — no less than 52 hours of activity directed over a normal of around a half year — enhanced the brain’s processing speed, the amount of time it takes to finish a mental task.

In healthy people, that same amount of exercise also improved executive function, a person’s ability to manage time, pay attention and achieve goals. However, researchers found no link between the amount of exercise and improved memory skills. Aerobic exercise, strength training, mind-body exercise, and combinations of these were all found to be beneficial to thinking skills.

Gomes-Osman said, “Only the total length of time exercising could be linked to improved thinking skills, but our results may also provide further insight. With a majority of participants being sedentary when they first enrolled in a study, our research suggests that using exercise to combat sedentary behavior may be a reason why thinking skills improved.”

The review was published in the May 30 online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.