Researchers have known for years that exercise is one of the best ways to keep your brain strong as you get older.
Which kind of exercise works best?
They had no idea…until a recent study was published.
Scientists from Canada’s McMaster University recruited 64 sedentary people between the ages of 60 and 88. They divided them into three groups.
Each group did one of the following routines, three times a week for 12 weeks:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT). This is a short, fast-paced workout. You go as hard you can for short bursts followed by brief rests. Sprints are an example.
- Moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). This is a longer, slower-paced workout. You go at steady, moderate intensity without rests. Jogging is an example.
- Stretching. This is just what it sounds like…things like toe touches or other muscle stretching movements.
All subjects took memory tests before and after the trial.
The MICT and stretching groups had no improvement.
But the HIIT group was 30% better in something called “high interference” memory. It’s a cognitive skill that allows you to distinguish between similar memories…being able to recall where you parked your car today versus where you parked it yesterday, for instance.
Professor Jennifer Heisz was the lead author. She said it’s “never too late to get the brain health benefits of being physically active.” But she notes that the intensity level makes a major difference in the results.
How to Do High-Intensity Exercise
HIIT doesn’t just improve cognitive ability. It works better than MICT to improve heart strength, circulation, lung capacity, and overall fitness. And it takes just a fraction of the time.
HIIT is adaptable to many activities. You can run, cycle, swim, do calisthenics, or use a rowing, stair climber, or elliptical machine.
Warm up for three to five minutes doing your chosen form of exercise slowly.
Then do the exercise at the highest intensity you can for the next minute.
Slow down for a minute or two to catch your breath. Then go hard again for another minute.
Repeat this process five to seven times. Afterward, do the activity slowly for at least two minutes to cool down.
The idea is to push your body for a brief burst, and then allow it to recover. HIIT allows you stay in great shape even when you don’t have time for a long workout.
It can help you stay mentally sharp into your 70s, 80s, and beyond.
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