News & Insights 18 March 2022

The power of physical activity on the brain

For many older adults, physical activity is something that is often feared, dreaded or avoided, perhaps as a result of reduced confidence or being concerned about an increased  risk of injury. Physical activity helps you take back control, be more independent and can help you live well for longer. You may feel nervous about increasing your activity levels, especially if you have been inactive for a while, but this is normal. The good news is that any physical activity is better than none at all.

There is a common misconception that for physical activity to be valuable it must be vigorous. According to a new study , keeping your brain active during older age may be as simple as keeping your body active. A study conducted by the University of Georgia, found that older adults who participate in regular physical activity have improved cognitive capabilities as they age, and that keeping active can improve the brain’s performance without requiring strenuous exercise.

Different parts of the brain are active at different times; it is made up of several distinct networks that are continuously communicating. A person’s ability to perform everyday tasks, such as remembering important information and exhibiting self-control, relies on these networks. However, as we age, our ability to perform these tasks effectively can often decrease. This study was the first to examine how these networks interact with physical activity and fitness to impact how the brain functions.

Lead author Marissa Gogniat, a recent doctoral graduate in psychology from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences explains, in a university release . “We’ve always been told it’s good to exercise, but I think this is some evidence that exercise can actually change your brain,” Gogniat says. “And that impacts the way you’re able to function in your daily life.”

The researchers tracked the physical activity and cognitive health of 51 older adults over a period of six months.. Tests were designed to measure each volunteer’s cognitive ability as well as their brain health, and a six-minute walk test was conducted to measure each participant’s fitness.

“This paper is exciting because it gives us some evidence that when people whose brain networks aren’t functioning optimally engage in physical activity, we see improvement in their executive function and their independence,” Gogniat reports. “We’re not saying you need to radically change your life.”

This study shows  small changes to your lifestyle as you age can help keep your brain healthy and keep you as independent as possible. Every move you make can matter, from taking the stairs instead of the escalator, playing with your children and/or grandchildren, to taking the dog for a walk. Movement doesn’t need to be strenuous or hard  to keep both your body and mind healthy.

At KiActiv®, we understand that physical activity is more than just exercise and sport, and that small changes to your lifestyle can have a big impact. Moving away from exercise to personalised, everyday physical activity is essential for your physical and cognitive health, and is more accessible to everyone. This raised awareness and understanding of everyday physical activity is a key factor in increasing motivation to create healthier habits, and help us all age healthily.

The KiActiv® Team