Women who exercise regularly after menopause tend to maintain their physical strength and mental acuity longer than those who don’t, according to a new review of past studies that found exercise that gets the heart rate up is best.
Debra Anderson said that starting physical activity later in life than earlier is still better than not doing any exercise at all to lower the risk of a decreasing cognitive
Anderson worked on the study at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation of the Queensland University of Technology in Kelvin Grove, Australia.
She and her team reviewed 21 studies published between 2009 and 2014 assessing exercise or leisure time physical activity among women ages 65 and older.
Higher physical activity levels were always linked to slower physical decline and better fitness. Exercise generally seemed to preserve brain health, too, although the studies didn’t agree on the strength of that association.
“We found that moderate to vigorous exercise is better than mild and gentle exercise,” Anderson told Reuters.
Although it's known that older adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week, doctors might consider “prescribing” more intense exercise to older women, the authors suggest.
“Based on our findings we feel this should be 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five times per week for midlife and older women,” Anderson said.
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It now seems very important that women exercise to a point where they cannot finish a sentence while exercising and breathe hard and sweat, she said.
“I would encourage someone who has not exercised at this intensity before to see a general practitioner for a referral to an accredited exercise physiologist to talk with them on how to build up to this level,” she added.
The idea that breaking a sweat helps the brain is not new, said Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist at Queensland University of Technology.
“One thing we absolutely know is it builds muscle and strengthens the skeletal frame, and also brings oxygen and blood flow to the brain,” she said.
Keeping active helps make aging easier for everyone, not just postmenopausal women, Bartlett said, but that group might derive particular benefit.
Estrogen levels decrease during menopause, and the hormone has a role in preserving brain cells and forming new memories.