Research News


Solo Exercise Is Good for Older Brains, but Exercise with Others Is Even Better

image picture Image by Ground Picture/Shutterstock

University of Tsukuba (Japan) study finds routine exercise helps ward off cognitive impairment in older adults: exercising by oneself is beneficial, while exercising with others has an even more positive effect

Tsukuba, Japan - Exercise is beneficial in obvious ways like getting a leaner and stronger body, yet its benefits can also improve the brain, including in older adults. Socializing can also have cognitive benefits. Now, a study published in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, not only found cognitive benefits of regular exercise among older people, it found even greater benefits when exercise is done with others.

The global number of dementia patients is expected to surpass 150 million by 2050. As a result, interest is rising in manageable activities, such as exercise and socializing, which may reduce the risk of age-related cognitive disorders.

"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.

This study was supported by a JSPS KAKENHI Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B) (20H04063) to TO and by grants from Young Scientists (B) (26750348) to KT, JST COI-NEXT (JPMJPF2017) to TO, JST SPRING (JPMJSP2124) to KN, the Meiji Yasuda Life Foundation of Health and Welfare to TJ, and the Japan Sports Association to TO.

Original Paper

The article, "Impact of exercising alone and exercising with others on the risk of cognitive impairment among older Japanese adults" was published in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics at DOI: 10.1016/j.archger.2022.104908


Professor OKURA Tomohiro
Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba

Related Link

Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences

Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba
Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba