Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Less is sometimes more. Researchers at Stellenbosch University have found that lower intensity exercise has greater benefits for older people’s brains than high-intensity training.

A study by the university’s sport science department‚ which put 55- to 75-year-olds through three exercise regimes‚ found that those in the high-intensity programme enjoyed the greatest physical benefits‚ but those in the other programme fared better in cognitive functioning.

The researchers said the greatest benefit from the 16-week programme was in "executive" cognitive tasks‚ involving planning‚ scheduling‚ working memory‚ interference control (the ability to filter out distracting information) and task control and coordination.

Researchers Carla Coetsee and Elmarie Terblanche randomly assigned 67 people to resistance training‚ high-intensity aerobic interval training‚ moderate continuous aerobic training or a non-exercise control group‚ they wrote in the European Review of Ageing and Physical Activity.

While it has long been known that regular exercise in middle age protects against cognitive decline in later years‚ the researchers said that "to the best of our knowledge" the study was the first attempt to compare the effects of high-intensity aerobic interval training to traditional aerobic training‚ as well as resistance training.

Coetsee and Terblanche said the greatest improvement in physical function was induced by high-intensity interval training.

"The findings of the present study highlight the importance of longer-duration exercise training sessions of a moderate intensity for gains in executive cognitive function‚" they said.

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