Cognitive skills Strong memory in old age? Do aerobic exercise 3 times a week in your 50s and 60s, scientists say

Stay invested in your health as you age to maintain your physical movement and memory abilities. | Photo credit: iStock Images


  • The results were released by the University of Pittsburgh.
  • The researchers looked at 3,000 adults between the ages of 55 and 85 and their activity levels.

We have seen it ourselves in society. Among the elderly (read “very old”), those who are animated and in the moment are also those who move actively. Aerobic exercise remains one of the most promising approaches to improving cognitive function in late adulthood.

What researchers at the University of Pittsburgh sought to uncover are the potential positive effects of physical exercise in the later years of your life on episodic memory, which are so far poorly understood and make the subject of intense debate.

Staying active in your 50s and 60s may be the key to avoiding memory loss, the University of Pittsburgh scientists’ study suggests. The findings, published in the journal Communications Medicine, come from a meta-analysis of 36 studies.

Course of the study :

  • The academics looked at 3,000 middle-aged adults who were asked to walk, run, cycle or swim for 3-4 months.
  • The participants were mostly women (66%) and studied between 1985 and 2021.
  • The data collected included everyone’s exercise levels and their ability to remember key life events.
  • Researchers have found a strong link between the two – activity level and retention of cognitive skills in later years of life.

What is the connection between exercise and memory?

  1. Only adults without cognitive impairment saw their memory improve; those who had already experienced a slight memory decline did not show any benefit.
  2. Probably those who had already suffered from mild memory decline had not followed the exercise plans so rigorously.
  3. People who do aerobic exercises have better memory. Testing was not done for anaerobic exercises like yoga, gym workouts, etc.
  4. Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, preventing neurons from dying as people age, thereby preserving memories.
  5. Exercising three times a week for four months can help retain memory later in life.
  6. Dozens of studies have already suggested that exercise has a protective effect on memory.

So when should you start exercising?
Ideally, one should stay active and exercise at least 180 minutes per week (moderate walking, cycling, swimming, anything). But if you haven’t exercised, it’s never too late to start, as long as your doctor allows you to.
Lead author Sarah Aghjayan said: “We found that there were greater improvements in memory in people aged 55-68 compared to those aged 69-85 – so it’s best to ‘intervene sooner… From our study, it appears that exercising about three times a week for at least four months is what you need to reap the benefits in episodic memory… The Results also suggested that exercise levels need to be maintained for at least four months for people to experience benefits.

How Much Exercise Should You Do?

  1. Anyone in adulthood (say up to age 65) should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity like cycling or brisk walking each week.
  2. To maintain muscle strength, one must do strength training 2 or more days per week and ensure that one has put all the major sets of muscles in the body through a proper diet.
  3. If you’re into high-intensity workouts, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity like running or one game of any fast-acting sport should do the trick.
  4. A good rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity.
  5. Most of us find it much easier and more convenient to break it up into 30 minute periods to be done 5 days a week.
  6. Above all, remember that “Sitting is the next cigarette” and make sure to break up those long computer sessions by taking intermittent short breaks without fail.

Disclaimer: The tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are provided for general information only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or dietitian before starting any fitness program or making any changes to your diet.