Elderly Couple Walking on a Beach

Exercising and Brain Health

If you are looking to keep your brain healthy as you age, and looking to keep your mind focused and sharp, it seems that exercising your body is the way to go.  Activity appears to be critical to staving off the creeping memory loss that starts around the end of our thirties.

Elderly Couple Walking on a BeachCanadian researchers measured the energy expenditure and cognitive functioning in a large group of elderly adults over the course of 5 years.  Most of the volunteers did not exercise, but were active. Almost none would be classified as exercise enthusiasts.  The activities that most performed were regular, every day activities like: walking around the block, cooking, gardening, and cleaning.  According to Dr. Laura Middleton, the lead author of this study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, “the effects of modest activity on the brain were remarkable.”

The sedentary group scored worse over the years on a cognitive functioning test, while the active group showed little decline. 90% of those who exercised the most could think and remember just as well as they had, year after year. Dr. Middleton said “our results show that vigorous exercise isn’t necessary” to protect your mind.

In another study, women in their 70’s with vascular disease or multiple risk factors for developing that condition were studied.  Their activity levels and cognitive tests were examined over a 5 year period.  There were no marathon runners in this group. The most active among them walked for exercise.  But there was a decreasing rate of cognitive decline found among the active group.  Their ability to think and remember still declined, but not as rapidly as those who were sedentary.

If an inactive 70 year old is heading towards dementia at 50 miles per hour, then by the time they are 75 they are speeding there at 75 miles an hour,” said Dr. Kang, senior author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  “But the active 76 year olds in our study moved toward dementia at more like 50 mile per hour.”  Walking and activity had basically bought them an extra 5 years of their brain functioning at a higher level.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia have shown that light duty weight training changes how well older women think and how blood flows to their brains.  They studied women who weight lifted 2 times a week for 12 months.  These women performed better on tests of mental processing ability then women who did a balancing and toning program for the 12 months.

It seems that weight lifting is a viable option for those who are looking to stave off mental decline as they age.  Cardio-vascular exercise is a viable option as well.  Any type of exercise, if done in the right way and consistently, will help with mental cognition.  It is only a matter of finding what you like to do, and sticking with it.  And as I have said many times, if you do it in the right way, you can also decrease your pain.  So if you exercise consistently, you can look better, feel better, and be sharper mentally.  Sounds like a good deal to me.



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