Older adults only need to work out once to get these benefits

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a long slog at the gym before you see any results. But if you’re an older adult just trying to keep moving, you’ll be pleased to know that you get some benefits right away – like after just one workout. A new study conducted at the University of Iowa finds that a single workout session can increase mental performance in some older adults.

In experiments where participants from 60 to 80 years old exercised once to multiple times, researchers discovered that some people demonstrated improved cognitive function and memory performance.

Lead study author Michelle Voss discerned how one exercise session affected older people by having 34 adults between 60- and 80-years-old — healthy, but not active — ride a stationary bike on two separate occasions (one easy, one with more difficult resistance) for 20 minutes. Before and after each bout of exercise, each participant underwent a brain scan and performed a memory test.

This benefit makes it easy, low-pressure way for people to get to the gym, creating a “day-by-day” approach, said lead study author Professor Michelle Voss, in a release. “In terms of behavioral change and cognitive benefits from physical activity, you can say, ‘I’m just going to be active today. I’ll get a benefit.’ So, you don’t need to think of it like you’re going to train for a marathon to get some sort of optimal peak performance. You just could work at it day-by-day to gain those benefits.”

There’s just one catch: the cognitive benefits you get from exercise don’t stick around; they’re temporary. So you have to keep going back to the gym to feel that boost again.

“The hope is that a lot of people will then keep it up because those benefits to the brain are temporary,” said Voss. “Understanding exactly how long the benefits last after a single session, and why some benefit more than others, are exciting directions for future research.”

The researchers noted that their study was limited in that it used only a small number of people. Voss has expanded her participant pool for a five-year study to confirm this study’s initial findings.

The results of the study were published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.