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How to Exercise for Brain Health: Design a workout that can build your brainpower as well as your muscles.

Being physically active can lift mood, help you maintain a healthy weight, and keep your muscles strong—and mounting evidence suggests that working out may have brain benefits as well.

Now, a study published this week in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice, is helping to determine how much exercise you may need for better brain power.

Based on reviews of 98 randomized controlled trials, researchers from Brazil, Spain, and the U.S. found that people started to show some improvement in brain function—they were unable to pinpoint exactly how much—after a minimum of 52 hours of exercise. Their findings were true for those with cognitive impairment as well as those with normal cognition.

“Once you’re around that 50-hour mark, you would expect to see some increase in mental sharpness,” says Joyce Gomes-Osman, P.T., Ph.D., the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the departments of physical therapy and neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

In the studies reviewed, exercise programs lasted about six months on average, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to get those 52 hours over a half-year.

What’s more important, Gomes-Osman says, is understanding that it takes a while for any thinking-related benefits of exercise to take hold. “These are things that happen slowly,” she says, with consistent exercise over time.

Another takeaway from the new study—and some previous ones—is that while most of the research on the exercise-brain connection has been on aerobic workouts, other kinds of exercise also appear to be beneficial.

For example, a recent analysis from the University of Canberra in Australia found that some nonaerobic activities can also help improve brain function in people older than 50.

“Even when people did have some level of decline already, they were actually able to improve their cognitive function,” says the Canberra study’s author, Joseph Northey, a Ph.D. candidate in sport and exercise science.

Here, for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, is advice on how to optimize your exercise routine to help brain health.

Take a Brisk Walk


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