Switching to a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout from your usual cardio routine could help to prevent dementia, according to new research. Scientists at the University of Queensland believe that pushing more blood towards the brain could be the answer to staving off the neurodegenerative disease.
It’s more than just keeping active, which has been well-established as a way to avoid dementia, but about putting maximum effort in over a short space of time. The intensity of the workout gets the blood pumping much faster than traditional cardio.
HIIT has become popular for improving cardiovascular health in recent years, but less is known about its impact on brain health and function. As a result, the study was designed to see if HIIT could be useful in this regard.
Dr Tom Bailey, lead author of the study, said: “As we age, the flow of blood to the brain and arterial function decreases. These factors have been linked to a risk of cognitive decline and cardiovascular events, such as stroke. Finding ways to increase brain blood flow and function in older adults is vital.”
For the study, a group of male participants with an average age of 25 were compared to another group of men who were 69 and over. The test saw some of them cycle for ten minutes followed by a ten-minute rest and the others take a HIIT approach, repeatedly cycling for a single minute with a minute’s rest.
While both of the approaches improved overall blood flow in the older adults, only with HIIT did the effects continue during the rest periods. This makes it a more efficient form of exercise for pumping extra blood to the brain.
Dr Bailey added: “One of the key takeaways from the study was that both the exercise and the rest period were important for increasing brain blood flow in older adults. The benefits of exercise on brain function are thought to be caused by the increase in blood flow and shear stress, the frictional force of blood along the lining of the arteries, which occurs during exercise.
“This study aimed to identify the type or format of exercise that causes the greatest increases in brain blood flow, so we could help to optimise exercise programmes to enhance brain function.”
It’s worth considering that what qualifies as HIIT is different for everyone, as it is relative to an individual’s fitness level. This means that it could be anything from walking uphill for some to cycling in others and elderly people could simply walk up the stairs using a handrail to achieve a HIIT session.
The study looked at short-term increases in blood flow and Dr Bailey pointed out that the next step will be to see what the effects are over a longer period of time. While it’s known that lifelong exercisers tend to have less cognitive decline, finding out if this type of activity produces more benefits in this area could be a big step forward.
Some 850,000 people in the UK have dementia and the predictions for the future are that this will only increase. While there is still no cure for the neurodegenerative disease, lifestyle choices remain the best form of prevention.