The elderly and middle-aged should drink more water to reap the full cognitive benefits of exercise.

The cognitive benefits of exercise are weakened by dehydration, according to new research from the US.

Scientists from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, say the elderly can have a “blunted” perception of their thirst, meaning they are less likely to recognise the signs of thirst until it’s too late, and are therefore at greater risk of becoming dehydrated.

The researchers studied a group of cyclists with an average age of 55 years who were competing in a cycling event.

The participants’ urine was tested before the event, and they were subsequently divided into two groups – one group was “normally” hydrated, while the other group was ”‘dehydrated”.

The cyclists were asked to perform executive function tests both before and after the event. The test involved quickly and accurately connecting dots on a piece of paper.

The normally hydrated group performed the executive function test much more quickly after the cycling event.

While the dehydrated group also performed better after cycling, their time improvements were less significant.

The findings show that in order to reap the greatest benefits from exercise in old and middle age, make sure to drink plenty of water.

“Older adults should adopt adequate drinking behaviors to reduce cognitive fatigue and potentially enhance the cognitive benefits of regular exercise participation,” the researchers wrote in their paper, Dehydration impairs executive function task in middle-age and older adults following endurance exercise.


Top tips to prevent dehydration:

  • Include a drink of water with every meal.
  • Have drinks, such as water, apple or orange juice readily available especially for people that struggle to drink water.
  • Be alert to the early signs of dehydration, such as dry lips and nose, dark urine, fatigue, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and a sense of thirstiness.
  • Avoid to much coffee and alcohol, which can have a diuretic effect, ie. increase the flow of urine.
  • Remember that foods can also be hydrating, including broths, fruits (including apples, oranges, and grapes), and vegetable (such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers).
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