There are numerous health benefits of exercise. It improves flexibility and bone health, promotes healthy aging, reduces the risk of having some diseases and prevents obesity.
Exercise directly affects the parts of the body that you use in each activity. Your arms, legs and abs may look better, and even your heart functions improve as you breathe faster and deeper. But how about the brain?
A new study suggests that whatever body part you use, exercise may positively affect brain health. However, researchers noted intensity is important for greater benefits.
Researchers analyzed the effects of high-intensity exercise in older adults, aged 60 to 88. The team divided the participants into groups that participated in either a HIIT workout, a moderate-intensity continuous training or regular stretching only.
Each group participated in three sessions per week for 12 weeks. After each exercise, the researchers analyzed the adults’ “newborn” neurons, which indicate new connections in the brain and new memories.
The results, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, showed that the participants in the HIIT group had a 30 percent increased memory performance. However, the moderate exercise group showed no improvement after the experiment.
Researchers said HIIT helped improve high-interference memory, which enables people to better distinguish information and objects, according to mindbodygreen.
“It’s never too late to get the brain health benefits of being physically active, but if you are starting late and want to see results fast, our research suggests you may need to increase the intensity of your exercise,” lead study author Jennifer Heisz said.
The researchers said the findings would guide future efforts to find new therapies for conditions affecting memory, such as dementia. High-intensity exercise can be added to the list of ways to prevent cognitive decline and promote healthy aging.
“There is urgent need for interventions that reduce dementia risk in healthy older adults. Only recently have we begun to appreciate the role that lifestyle plays, and the greatest modifying risk factor of all is physical activity,” Heisz added.
However, the researchers noted yoga and a flat-out run on the treadmill are still good options to stay healthy. Heisz recommended those who would want to add intensity to their daily routine without trying HIIT may consider venturing up hills on your daily walk, or increasing your pace between street lamps.
Related video: Jillian Michaels’ dumbbell HIIT workout [via Health]