Double the Brain Benefits: Study Identifies New Advantages of Group Exercise

Group of Old Adults Exercising

According to a new study, participants who exercised twice or more weekly with others saw a 29.2% decrease in risk of cognitive impairment, while those who exercised alone saw a 15.1% decrease.

A study at the University of Tsukuba in Japan has found that routine exercise helps prevent cognitive impairment in older adults, with exercising alone being beneficial, but exercising with others having an even greater positive effect.

Regular exercise has benefits beyond a leaner and stronger physique. It also boosts brain function, especially in older adults. And doing exercise with others, according to a study in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, results in even greater cognitive benefits compared to exercising alone.

With the projected increase in the global number of dementia patients reaching 150 million by 2050, there is growing interest in simple lifestyle practices, like exercise and socializing, that can potentially lower the risk of age-related cognitive decline.

“Exercise is manageable for many older people, and we saw cognitive benefits from it compared with those who don’t exercise,” says study senior author Professor Tomohiro Okura from the University of Tsukuba. “But it’s even more noteworthy that we found exercise’s benefits rise—14.1 percentage points in our study—when performed with others and at least twice a week.”

Professor Okura’s study collected data on 4,358 older (averaging 76.9 ± 5.6 years) adults in a regional city about 100 km (~62 miles) north of central Tokyo. This took place in 2017 to obtain baseline data for how frequently these people exercised alone or with others. The study team also used a local government database to collect follow-up data on the people’s cognitive condition over nearly 4 years.

The researchers analyzed and calculated the data to find the relation between cognitive decline, exercise, and exercise with others. They found that participants who exercised alone twice or more weekly decreased their risk of developing cognitive impairment by 15.1%. Yet those who exercised with others twice or more weekly showed a 29.2% decrease.

Studies reinforce these findings in various ways. Exercise can provide favorable physical and mental outcomes. It can also reduce chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Exercising in groups introduces a social element, and socializing has also been found to potentially reduce the development of cognitive disorders.

“A majority of the older adults in our study took part in exercise by themselves, and we can see the cognitive benefits when they do so at least twice a week,” Professor Okura says. “Adding in the social element, however, may make regular exercise all the more preventive. Adopting this habit could be extremely valuable.”

Further studies now need to look at factors such as exercise intensity and type. These findings may inform the development of specialized exercise programs that combine exercise and dementia for the prevention of dementia and other related conditions.

Reference: “Impact of exercising alone and exercising with others on the risk of cognitive impairment among older Japanese adults” by Koki Nagata, Kenji Tsunoda, Yuya Fujii, Takashi Jindo and Tomohiro Okura, 16 December 2022, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
DOI: 10.1016/j.archger.2022.104908

This study was supported by a JSPS KAKENHI Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research and by grants from Young Scientists, JST COI-NEXT, JST SPRING, the Meiji Yasuda Life Foundation of Health and Welfare, and the Japan Sports Association.

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