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A recent study delivered good news for seniors concerned about maintaining their mental sharpness, especially those managing high blood pressure. Researchers found that engaging in vigorous physical activity (VPA) just once a week could significantly reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

The study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, looked at over 7,600 adults aged 50 and older with high-risk hypertension. The average age of study participants was 68. VPA was defined as activities that make you sweat, increase your heart rate, or make you breathe harder, such as brisk walking, swimming or gardening.

Those who reported doing VPA at least once a week had a 19% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a 20% lower risk of probable dementia compared to those who did less. MCI is often a precursor to dementia, so reducing its risk is crucial.

“We know that physical exercise offers many benefits, including lowering blood pressure, improving heart health, and potentially delaying cognitive decline,” said Richard Kazibwe, MD, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and study lead author. “However, the amount and the intensity of exercise needed to preserve cognition is unknown.”

These benefits were even more pronounced in certain groups. Participants under 75 and Black participants saw the most significant reductions in cognitive decline risk. This underscores the importance of staying active as we age and the potential for VPA to address health disparities.

The study also found that these benefits held true regardless of how intensely blood pressure was controlled. This implies, the study reported, that even for those on medication for high blood pressure, regular vigorous activity can provide an extra layer of protection for the brain.

“It is welcome news that a higher number of older adults are engaging in physical exercise. This also suggests that older adults who recognize the importance of exercise may be more inclined to exercise at higher intensity,” Kazibwe said.