How does exercise influence your brain as you age? 

Question:

Does aerobic exercise, resistance training, and/or Tai Chi improve cognitive performance in adults over 50?

Conclusion:

Results are inconclusive; individual studies show significant impact of exercise on cognitive performance, but when analyzed collectively, there is a lack of consistency in results. Resistance training and Tai Chi showed some measurable effects.

Process:

  • 25 of 725 studies qualified for analysis
  • All selected studies were randomized controlled trials (strong evidence)
  • Cochrane standards used to determine weakness (bias) in study design

Analysis:

  • At least 10 participants per study
  • Measures: large categories: memory and executive function, with subcategories for each
  • Exercise types were compared to stretching/toning, no exercise, and no intervention control groups

Results:

  • Resistance training, when compared to stretching and toning, improved measures of reasoning (executive function)
  • Tai Chi, when compared to no exercise, improved measures of attention and processing speed (executive function)
  • There were no significant differences between the aerobic exercise groups and the control groups

Other Information:

  • Studies do not consider how fit the patients were at the start
  • Results are usually more consistent in older adults, i.e. 50-64 may be too young to show a difference
  • Studies were brief in duration, and long-term studies would be more helpful
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