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Exercise benefits seniors in many ways, new research says

November 19, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Improved memory, brain health and physical fitness are three benefits that can accrue when seniors follow a physical fitness regimen, according to new research. Another study has found that exercise can the elderly improve fitness for and recovery from surgery.

The former study "shows the tremendous benefit of aerobic exercise on a person's memory and demonstrates that aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging," says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the research, published online in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

The investigators randomly split 37 sedentary adults aged 57 to 75 years into two groups, a control group and one that exercised on stationary bicycles or treadmills under supervision for one hour three times a week for 12 weeks. Participants' cognition, resting cerebral blood flow and cardiovascular fitness were assessed before the regimen began; mid-way through, at 6 weeks; and post-training, at 12 weeks.

The tests of the exercising adults revealed an increase in blood flow to the part of the brain, the anterior cingulated, associated with superior cognition later in life. Exercisers who improved their memory performance also showed greater increase in blood flow to the hippocampus, the key brain region affected by Alzheimer's disease.

"Physical exercise may be one of the most beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to elevate memory performance," Chapman says.

Another study, conducted in the United Kingdom by researchers at Norfolk and Norwich University, found that, in the elderly, “exercise training can improve cardiopulmonary fitness in the short time available for surgery and reduce risk of postoperative complications.”

Dr. Srijit Banerjee and colleagues studied 30 patients scheduled to undergo urologic surgery. Participants assigned to the intervention group, which exercised twice a week under supervision for 4 weeks before their surgery, experienced an improved level of fitness.

"Based on these results, we are already in the process of examining whether the improvement in fitness level translates into a better postoperative outcome with reduced hospital stay,” Banerjee says, noting that the researchers are planning a larger, multicenter, randomized controlled trial.

The researchers presented their findings [PDF] at the European Multidisciplinary Meeting for Urological Cancers (see the page numbered 125 at the link, the 21st page in the 88-page document).

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