This News Should Be the Headline!
Buried deep in a recent special edition of Time Magazine (Secrets of Living Longer) was a powerful statement: “Most experts agree that the intervention most clearly proven to slow aging in the brain is aerobic exercise.” Critical information for Baby Boomers and seniors, this announcement deserves center stage!
How Exercise Supports the Aging Brain
1) With exercise, a serious of chemicals is released that lift mood, improve motivation and learning, and protect the brain from stress, depression and anxiety.
2) Exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that shrinks with inactivity, but is critical for memory and learning.
3) Exercise helps control chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, all known and powerful risk factors for mental decline.
4) Physical activity helps control obesity. Fat cells release chemicals that adversely affect the brain, and being overweight doubles the chance of developing dementia.
5) Exercise boosts the immune system by improving our body’s ability to fight infection and decreasing chronic inflammation–a recognized Alzheimer’s risk factor.
6) Exercise fosters neuroplasticity–the brain’s ability to reorganize itself. Physical activity results in more brain cells (neurons) and more connections between cells, which keeps the brain growing and adapting to new situations and stresses.
How Much and Which Type of Physical Activity?
1) Most studies that look at the benefits of exercise on the aging brain involve aerobic (also known as cardiovascular) exercise; experts recommend 30+ minutes, 5 days/week.
2) An exercise program with both aerobic and strength training is more effective than aerobic exercise alone for improving cognitive function in inactive older adults; the recommendation is resistance training with all major muscle groups 2 – 3 time/week.
3) Balance and flexibility are important in preventing falls, and head injuries are a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease; do this training at least 2 days/wk.
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