Your brain loves your brisk morning walk. Want to supersize those cognitive benefits? Add a friend!
New research from Japan suggests that when you combine exercise with socializing, the payoff may be even greater.1
The researchers weren’t surprised when they saw cognitive benefits in solo exercisers compared to their sedentary peers. No news there. However, they were intrigued that the group exercisers fared far better …
“Exercise is manageable for many older people, and we saw cognitive benefits from it compared with those who don’t exercise,” explained study senior author Tomohiro Okura, a professor at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
People who exercised alone twice or more weekly decreased their risk of developing impaired thinking or learning skills by more than 15 percent. But those who exercised in a group doubled those benefits!
Group Exercise Doubles Cognitive Benefits
“… 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,” Prof. Okura added. That means that those who exercised with others twice or more weekly exhibited a 29 percent decrease in cognitive decline. That’s double the brain benefits!
“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,” Prof. Okura explained. “Adding in the social element, however, may make regular exercise all the more preventive. Adopting this habit could be extremely valuable.”
Indeed, research supports that socializing is right up there with exercise, diet, and sleep when it comes to healthy aging.
Why Our Brains Love Company
This newest study adds to a growing body of research exploring the significance of strong social ties to brain health. You see, while you’re chatting about your vacation with your walking buddy, you are also stimulating your attention span and strengthening neural networks.
A recent study from Johns Hopkins finds that socially isolated older adults have a 27 percent higher risk of developing dementia than older adults who are socially engaged.2
“Social connections matter for our cognitive health and the risk of social isolation is potentially modifiable for older adults,” notes Dr. Thomas Cudjoe, senior author of the study.
Whether it’s a fitness class at the YMCA or a walking group that meets regularly, you’ll experience a bounty of benefits. Those start with motivation…
Group Exercisers Stick With It
That’s right, one study found that older adults are more likely to stick with a group exercise program if they do it with peers their age.3
“All of this together points to the power of social connections,” said Dr. Mark Beauchamp, the study’s lead author. “If you set the environment up so participants feel a sense of connection or belonging with these other people, then they’re more likely to stick with it.”
Another study reports that an exercise companion can help with accountability and frequency. When someone is counting on you to meet them at the gym, it’s a lot harder to skip.4 As for gyms, they’re a great place to get started on your group fitness journey.
Group fitness classes at gyms make it convenient to work out with others. Pick your favorite time, class, and instructor; before you know it, you’ll be on a first-name basis with a handful of new people. And who knows, these acquaintances may transition into real friendships.
Whether in a gym, on a neighborhood walking trail, or on a pickleball court, staying active with others is an easy, fun way to enjoy companionship, keep your body fit and boost your memory, too.