Posts written by Anita Chan

A short 10-minute walk can benefit the brain

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that even ten minutes of mild exercise can benefit the brain. In the study, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Tsukuba in Japan looked at a group of healthy young college students.

The study had 36 participants. They visited the research lab two separate times. On the first visit, each participant sat on a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes. On the second visit, they pedalled the bicycle at a gentle pace that barely increased their heart rates.

New York Times summarized: “In technical terms, the exercise was performed at about 30 percent of each volunteer’s heart rate reserve, or the difference between a person’s maximum heart rate and their resting heart rate. By comparison, brisk walking should raise someone’s heart rate reserve to about 50 percent.”

Participants completed a computerized memory test immediately after each session of sitting or slow pedalling. In the test, the participants would see a brief picture of an object (such as a tree), followed by a variety of other images and then a new image of either the same object or a similar object. Participants had to press buttons to indicate whether they thought each image was new or the same as an earlier image. Images closely resembled one another. The same process was repeated, with testing being completed inside an M.R.I machine that scanned the participant’s brains while they responded to the images.

Results showed that even though the exercise was undemanding, it had an effect on brain function. Participants were better at remembering images after they had ridden the bicycle, especially when the images closely resembled one another. Researchers also found that exercise altered how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another. Exercise also improved memory function. The findings suggest that exercise does not need to be long and rigorous to benefit the brain. The effects can take place far more quickly than many of us might expect.

In an interview with New York Times, Michael Yassa, the director of the U.C. Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and senior co-author of the new study with Hideaki Soya of the University of Tsukuba, concluded: “It was exciting to see those effects occurring so quickly and after such light exercise. The findings show that exercise can change people’s brains and minds right away without requiring weeks of working out. Even better, the exertion required can be so slight as to allow almost anyone, even those who are out of shape or possibly disabled, to complete the exercise.”

More research needs to be completed to determine how, at a molecular level, gentle exercise affects brain function. Click here to learn more about the study.

The power of working out together

Workout groups portraying older adults

A recent study at the University of British Columbia’s School of Kinesiology shows the importance of age-targeting fitness programs and working out together. The research found that older adults are more likely to stick with a group exercise program if they can work out with people their own age; whereas, working out with people of the same gender made no difference to following an exercise program.

According to Impact Magazine, “In Canada, fewer than 15 per cent of people past age 59 meet international physical activity guidelines. We have been looking for ways to keep people active into old age, because inactivity has been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and arthritis. It can also affect overall quality of life.”

For the study, 627 adults between the ages of 65 and 91 (average was 72) were recruited for exercise classes at YMCA locations in Metro Vancouver. The participants were divided into three workout groups:

1) Participants were of the same age and gender, led by older adult instructors trained for the study.

2) Participants were of the same age, but different gender, led by older adult instructors trained for the study.

3) Participants worked out in a typical YMCA class that was open to all ages and genders, led by a YMCA instructor.

Over the 24-week period of the study, researchers found that:

-participants in the same-age, mixed-gender group averaged 33.8 classes

-participants in the same-age, same-gender group averaged 30.7 classes

-participants in the mixed-age group averaged 24.3 classes

Participants were given T-shirts that identified them as members of a group and were given opportunities to socialize over coffee following class. This social connection – the sense of belonging – helped participants stick with their exercise program.

This age-targeting strategy should be adapted to a variety of physical activity settings such as community centres, fitness clubs and retirement communities to help older adults meet their daily physical activity requirements.