Guidelines spell out how much exercise older Australians need to support ageing brains

A new set of guidelines aimed at Australians aged 60 and over, who have noticed changes in their memory and cognitive abilities, recommends how much and what type of physical activity these seniors should undertake for improved brain health.

Research led by University of Melbourne Professor of Psychiatry of Old Age Nicola Lautenschlager shows older people should, in consultation with their doctor, engage in:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 90 minutes of vigorous activity every week
  • Progressive resistance training twice a week
  • Activities that help improve and maintain balance.

Professor Lautenschlager said older people who regularly participate in physical activity experience health benefits such as improved cognitive outcomes, physical health and physical function.

“Many older people with cognitive impairment or decline lack confidence to start or increase their physical activity,” Professor Lautenschlager said.

“Start by talking to a health professional like your GP to come up with an individual plan.

“You could start with a very small amount of activity then increase it gradually. Also, doing physical activity with someone else and choosing something fun can help you stay active and makes getting started less daunting.”

Professor Lautenschlager said research into how physical activity affects brain health was relatively young and many details about the underlying mechanisms remain unknown.

“Current evidence suggests that physical activity can protect the brain through indirect effects, such as by lowering the blood pressure and increasing heart health or through direct effects, such as stimulating activities of nerve cells via release of specific chemicals directly in the brain,” Professor Lautenschlager said.

“So many countries already had guidelines for healthy people of all ages, but these Australian guidelines are the first of their kind as they are specifically for people who have noticed changes to their memory and cognition with ageing and are therefore at increased risk to develop cognitive decline or dementia in the future."

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines are funded by Dementia Collaborative Research Centres.