Exercise can improve focus, attention in older adults

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Here's another reason to encourage residents to exercise: New research shows that older adults can improve brain function by raising their fitness level.

Jeffrey Burns, M.D., professor of neurology and co-director of the University of Kansas Alzheimer's Disease Center, led a six-month trial of healthy adults aged 65 or more years who showed no signs of cognitive decline. The results of the study recently were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Some study participants moderately exercised for the recommended 150 minutes per week, whereas a second group exercised for 75 minutes per week and a third group exercised for 225 minutes per week. All those who exercised saw some benefit, and those who exercised more saw more benefits, particularly in the ability to perceive where objects are in space and how far apart the objects are from each other. Participants who exercised also showed an increase in their overall attention levels and ability to focus.

“Basically, the more exercise you did, the more benefit to the brain you saw,” Burns said in a statement. “Any aerobic exercise was good, and more is better.”

The research indicated that the intensity of the exercise appeared to matter more than the duration. “For improved brain function, the results suggest that it's not enough just to exercise more,” Eric Vidoni, PT, Ph.D., a lead author of the journal article, said in a statement. “You have to do it in a way that bumps up your overall fitness level.”

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