Do the benefits of physical activity or mental activity differ between men and women?

Dr Frank Lipman
Dec 16, 2022

Are there differences in the cognitive benefits of exercise and mental activities for men and women? A new study which investigated the impact of both physical and mental activities on cognitive reserve (a buffer that strengthens facets of cognition when individuals have cognitive impairment) suggests that there is.

Study Summary

The study, which included 758 participants around ~76 years old, found that:

  • Higher amounts of exercise was associated with better thinking speed reserve for women.
  • Participation in more mental activities (reading, playing games, and classes) over the previous 13 months was associated with better thinking speed reserve.
  • Higher physical activity was not associated with better memory reserve.
  • When participants engaged in mental activities, each mental activity (completed regularly over the previous 13 months) reduced aging in processing speed and thinking by 10 years for women and 17 years for men.
  • When women doubled participation in physical activity, researchers estimated a decrease in aging in processing speed and thinking skills of 2.75 years.
  • Having a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s dampened the positive benefits of exercise and mental activities on cognitive reserve for women.

Note: This study is limited by population age and self-reported data, which was based on recall.

The Hearty Take

Association is not causation - however, this study suggests that both regular physical activity and mental activity may help enhance cognitive reserve. Previously research has suggested that physical and mental activities promote improved thinking speed and prevent dementia. At Hearty, we believe that engaging in both physical activity and life-long learning promotes brain health, regardless of biological sex. Support your long-term cognitive health by reading books, taking classes, or going for a run or walk! Looking for ways to increase physical activity or incorporate more mental activities into your routine? Reach out to your health coach!

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