It sounds so simple, we keep thinking there must be a catch – but news report after news report, research study after research study always seems to say the same thing. The simplest, safest and most effective way to improve both the body and the brain can be boiled down into two words: get moving.
The latest news release we’ve seen on this topic comes in this article just published on the website of the Financial Review, a publication in Australia. It bears this provocative heading: “The single best type of exercise for your brain, according to scientists.” As the piece written by journalist Erin Brodwin asserts, “A wealth of recent research suggests that any type of exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you moving and sweating for a sustained period of time — known as aerobic exercise — has a significant, overwhelmingly beneficial impact on the brain.” This type of exercise has the power “to lift your mood, improve your memory, and protect your brain against age-related cognitive decline.” Sounds pretty good to us!
For decades exercise physiologists have told us that aerobic exercise is great for the heart, proving the link between good cardiovascular health and longer, more robust living. But the Financial Review article goes farther, quoting a recent Harvard Medical School article that “aerobic exercise is the key for your head, just as it is for your heart.” Some of the benefits – improved mood, for example – show up very quickly after we start exercising. Others, like memory or cognitive improvements, generally take longer to appear. “That means,” writes Brodwin in the Financial Review, “that the best type of fitness for your mind is any aerobic exercise that you can do regularly and consistently for at least 45 minutes at a time.” This could include brisk walking, jogging, riding a bike, or any of a whole range of exercise options.
Here’s one example of the mental and psychological benefits of exercise: a pilot study found that people with severe depression who spent 30 minutes on a treadmill for 10 consecutive days experienced “a clinically relevant and statistically significant reduction in depression.”
Aerobic workouts can also help lower stress by reducing levels of the body’s natural stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The research that we at AgingOptions find most intriguing involves the benefits of exercise among seniors. A study published recently in the British Journal looked at adults between the ages of 60 and 88 who walked four days a week for half an hour a day for 12 weeks. The test subjects seemed to experience improved connectivity in a region of the brain where impairment in connectivity has been linked with memory loss. Even though findings are preliminary, this is encouraging news for those seeking to link exercise with improved cognitive ability and a delay in the onset and severity of dementia.
Are people getting the message? We would like to think so, but from time to time we run across discouraging evidence to the contrary. Just a few weeks ago the May 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin arrived in our mailbox. There in the back was a map of the United States with the title, “Idling Away.” It shows, state by state, the percentage of adults age 50 and older who engage in no physical activity at all. Washington State is among the best performers, with just 20 percent of the 50-plus crowd claiming they are completely sedentary. The worst states are in the South, ranging from 31 percent of Texans getting zero exercise to 39 percent of residents of Missouri. That means that, depending on where you live, between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 50-plus adults you know do not exercise at all. No wonder health problems are so widespread.
Is there a simple reason why exercise helps both body and mind? Researchers still aren’t sure. “But,” says the Financial Review article, “studies suggest it has to do with increased blood flow, which provides our minds with fresh energy and oxygen.” In another study, older women who displayed symptoms of dementia found that aerobic exercise appeared to boost the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in learning and memory.
If you’re an older adult, determined to improve your physical and mental health, exercise is almost certainly your best prescription. Remember, though, to check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise regimen. If you’ll follow our recommendation, you’ll go one step further and enlist the professional help of a geriatrician for your ongoing medical care. Also called a geriatric physician, these doctors are trained to care for the special physical and emotional needs of senior patients. Contact us at AgingOptions and we will be pleased to refer you to a geriatrician in your area. It could be among the most important choices you’ll ever make for your future health.
We also invite you to make one of the most important retirement choices you can make, and that’s to attend an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Here’s where you’ll discover how important it is to make sure all aspects of your retirement are interconnected. Your financial plan needs to work in harmony with your legal plan. These connect directly to your housing choices. Without a carefully crafted medical plan, you’ll be caught unprepared for a future medical crisis. But thanks to the power of LifePlanning, there is a way for all these components of retirement to be fully synchronized and interdependent.
The next step is simply to invest a few hours and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Click here for details and online registration. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon. Meanwhile, as we say here at AgingOptions, “Age On!”
(originally reported at www.afr.com)