One Major Effect of Working Out Once Per Week, Says New Study

You already know that doing regular exercise regularly is essential for maintaining good health. After all, research has shown that exercise can extend your life, prevent diseases, and help you sleep. Plus, of course, you can't get ripped if you don't work out, right?

Well, as it turns out, when you continue to make time to get moving as you grow older, it's not just your body that's going to thank you. A new study has discovered that, for adults ages 54 and over, exercising just once a week can improve cognitive function and protect against dementia.

The study, published in the journal Economics&Human Biology, analyzed data from over 16,000 Europeans between the ages of 54 and 75 for a period of 13 years. The results were clear—exercise has a significant impact on mental fitness, especially for women. (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.)

More specifically, the study found that physical activity improved men's brain function scores by 5%, according to the University of Queensland, where the research was conducted. Meanwhile, researchers found, exercise improves women's scores by as much as 14%.

Unsurprisingly, the more intense the exercise, the more of an impact it has on mental fitness. When men got both moderate and vigorous activity each week, their scores were 8% higher, while for women, their scores were 15% higher. So basically, per Health Department exercise guidelines, that could mean taking one brisk walk and one jog each week.

"It is important to understand that this effect on cognition doesn't happen overnight and it is critical to make it a habit," corresponding author Sabrina Lenzen told Eat This, Not That! In an interview. "…I think a great start to modify behavior, especially at older ages, is making small changes…It is critical to find something that you are able to maintain in the long run and that is enjoyable."

This doesn't mean, if you're younger than 54, that you're off the hook. While this study specifically looks at exercise's ability to improve cognition as you grow older, there has also been research indicating that exercise can help your brain function throughout your life. Just this month, study results showed that moving your body can seriously improve your attention span.

For more on boosting your cognition throughout your life, be sure to check out these 40 Ways to Boost Brainpower After 40 and then, don't miss The Way You Walk Can Predict Your Risk of This Disease, Says Study.