July 21, 2022 — Physical exercise and mental activity are good for brain health as we age, helping to keep thinking sharper and to delay dementia. Now a new study says that some benefits of exercise are more pronounced for women than they are for men.

Even shorts bursts of exercise improve the processing speed of our brains – and more for women, according to the research published by the American Academy of Neurology.

“We found that greater physical activity was associated with greater thinking speed reserve in women, but not in men,” said study author Judy Pa, a professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego in a statement. “Taking part in more mental activities was associated with greater thinking speed reserve for both men and women.”

As little as 15 minutes a week of brisk walking or biking can help people think more quickly and also slow the delay in processing speed that older people often experience, CNN reported. Playing cards, reading books, and other mental activities are also helpful for processing speed in men and women alike, researchers found.

Processing speed is a key part of brain health. It lets us plan better, solve problems, stay focused, and maintain conversations.

In the study, 758 people described their mental and physical activities. Some had signs of cognitive impairment or dementia while others did not have any problems with thinking or memory.

Scientists then looked at those survey results against brain scans of the participants’ hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with learning and memory.

More mental activity – like playing cards or bingo — lessened the aging of a person’s mental processing speed by an average of 17 years for men and 10 for women.

The study found no significant impact of physical activity on memory.