What types of exercise are best for brain health?

There are some notable benefits to regular exercise for brain health. Boxing, for example, has been used to help people with Parkinson’s disease.

Glatt acknowledged that certain forms of exercise may be more effective than others for enhancing brain health, especially activities that require cognitive function.

“Aerobic exercises, like running, swimming, and cycling, which improve cardiovascular health, are widely noted for their positive impacts on brain function,” he said.

“However, activities that combine physical and cognitive demands — such as dance and team sports — may offer additional benefits due to their requirement for coordination, rhythm, and executive functions,” he added.

Can exercise reverse or delay cognitive decline?

Kong suggested that physical activity can potentially reverse or delay the cognitive decline associated with getting older.

“As individuals age, they gradually lose the well-formed neuromuscular junctions between nerves and muscles, impairing the muscles’ ability to be regulated by nerve signals and subsequently reducing their capacity to secrete factors critical for brain function,” Kong explained.

“With appropriate training or stimulation for muscle contractions, muscles can produce factors that help maintain these neuromuscular junctions, thus preventing denervation. As a result, elderly individuals can still possess functional innervated muscles capable of producing important factors that enhance cognitive function in the brain,” he noted.

Glatt pointed out that a sedentary lifestyle, with relatively low levels of physical activity, can be associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline.

But he cautioned that there are a number of variations among individuals regarding genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors.

“Exercise is increasingly recognized as a supportive intervention for individuals with compromised cognitive functions, including those affected by age-related declines or conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Physical activity can enhance blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors, which may help to maintain or improve cognitive function,” Glatt said.

“While exercise is beneficial for maintaining cognitive health and potentially slowing the progression of decline, the evidence on its ability to reverse existing cognitive impairment is still inconclusive. Most studies suggest that exercise can contribute to a slower rate of decline and better overall brain health but reversing established cognitive deficits requires more extensive research,” he cautioned.