It may not be a fountain of youth, but it’s a simple prescription from which practically anybody can benefit. New research has shown that physical activity helps keep your thinking sharper, even for those with limited mobility and for those already experiencing some cognitive decline.
Activity Keeps Your Brain Sharper
We read about this reassuring research here on the NBC News website. Reporter Maggie Fox wrote the story which reports a simple but profoundly important finding: “Activity keeps your brain sharper, even if you have dementia.” In the study, physical activity showed significant benefit regardless of physical or mental impairment. Even seniors with some cognitive decline “had clearer thinking if they did whatever activity they could,” according to the NBC News report.
The research study came out of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Researchers tracked 454 people beginning in 1997 and followed them until they died, most of them by then in their 80s and 90s. “These volunteers took regular tests of their memory and thinking, wore wrist devices to measure their daily activity, and gave permission for their brains to be examined after they died,” says the article. As in previous studies, the Rush University study showed that “those who exercised more, or even moved around in daily life more, had clearer thinking and better memory well into old age.” But the intriguing finding in this new research is that exercise appeared to stop some of the brain damage associated with memory loss.
A Clear Association Between Movement and Brain Health
“Those who exercised or even just moved around more had clearer thinking right up to just before the time they died,” NBC News reports. “And the benefits did not just go to people who went to the gym or ran miles every day.” Researchers were measuring both exercise and routine daily activity, the study author, Dr. Aron Buchman, told NBC News. “There was just a clear association,” the article reports: “the more people moved around, the better they scored on a battery of memory and thinking tests.”
“Older people who can’t get out of the house to go to the gym…can still accrue some of the cognitive reserve and benefit by increasing whatever activity they are already doing,” Dr. Buchman told NBC News. “Some people can’t exercise in the traditional sense of the word.” But the upshot of the study is that “a more active lifestyle, whatever that is, may provide benefit.” The converse is also true, the research suggests: “Surrendering to disability by just sitting motionless in a chair all day may hasten memory loss.”
Perfect Brain Health Not Required
One research finding we found especially interesting is that the benefits of exercise proved themselves even among patients who already had some degree of age-related damage to their brains. After the study group had died, researchers studied the brain physiology of 427 of the subjects. Nearly all had at least one observable condition commonly associated with dementia: clogged or hardened arteries, damage done by strokes or mini-strokes, or the type of plaque accumulations linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Yet despite the fact that they did not have perfectly healthy brains, the people who kept moving stayed mentally sharper than those who didn’t.
As the article point out, medical researchers still don’t know why this correlation between exercise and brain health exists. Exercise seems to protect the brain from age-related damage, says NBC News, but “this study didn’t give any clues as to how that might be happening.” Nevertheless, the take-away couldn’t be clearer. “The findings support the idea that exercise and other activity give the brain an extra resilience and what’s called cognitive reserve – extra resources that the brain can call on to keep memory and thinking clear even as brain cells die.” Exercise, even at moderate levels, is known to lower blood pressure and produce healthier cholesterol levels. Staying active leads to a healthier immune system. Exercise has even been shown to slow the brain shrinkage associated with aging. With all that as evidence, we think the verdict is obvious: get up off the couch and get moving!
Get Moving on Planning for Your Retirement Future
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is predicted to soar to almost 14 million by 2050. If the changes you make today could reduce the impact of cognitive decline in the future, we think you owe it to yourself and your family to adjust your exercise habits, beginning immediately. Your physician should be able to evaluate the approach that’s best for you. For the very best in holistic medical care and advice on diet and exercise, we encourage you to seek out a board-certified geriatrician as the quarterback of your medical team. Contact us and we’ll refer you to a geriatric physician in your area. But remember, the key is to stay as mobile as you can and keep moving.
If you’re ready for the next step in retirement planning, Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions is here for you with an approach that is unique in its scope and strategy: instead of focusing piecemeal on one or two elements of a retirement plan, Rajiv looks at all the key facets, including finances, medical coverage, legal protection, housing choices, even communication with your family. These are then woven together into an AgingOptions LifePlan, a powerful, individualized tool to help you create the retirement you’ve always hoped for.
Wherever you are on your retirement journey, we hope you’ll join Rajiv at a free LifePlanning Seminar, a fast-paced, information-packed session that will open your eyes to a new way of thinking about and planning for retirement. There’s absolutely no obligation. You’ll find a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars here on our Live Events page. It’s never too late to begin! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.nbcnews.com)