The naysayers on the value of exercise should change their minds and become active before they forget why they frowned on working out in the first place.
That was the gist of an article in the September issue of the AARP Bulletin, “Keep your brain young by staying fit.” It starts out saying that a 2014 AARP survey showed that half of Americans thought that doing Sudoku, crossword puzzles, computer training, other games and mental tasks would keep their brains healthy.
What they should do instead is develop a lifelong exercise program because it will benefit their bodies as well as their minds.
“In the past decade, scientists have begun to understand the crucial relationship between exercise and brainpower,” Elizabeth Agnvall reports in the article. “Just as exercise helps keep muscles strong, blood vessels flexible and stress low, it also enhances mental abilities, stops brain shrinkage and promotes the formation of new neurons.”
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Studies also indicate that physically active people have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders.
The AARP notes that the hippocampus as we age shrinks, leading to trouble with memory and possibly dementia. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is central to memory.
Researchers have found that sedentary men and women ages 50 to 80 years old who walked around a track 40 minutes a day, three times a week for six months saw their hippocampus actually increase in size. “A control group that did not walk had smaller hippocampi than when they started,” the article said.
Another study of close to 900 men and women with an average age of 71 found that those who had exercised over five years moderately or vigorously by jogging, hiking, swimming or dancing performed on memory tests and brain skills exams about as well as people 10 years younger. “These studies support the prevailing theory that heart health and brain health are linked,” the magazine says.
Regular exercise is the miracle cure to prevent high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and thinning of bone mass. But physical exercise also keeps blood vessels in the brain healthy, ensuring a good oxygen and nutrient flow to the mind. Aerobic exercise creates higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps repair and protect the brain.
In addition, strength training helps by sending pulses of blood to the brain. In one study, women who did moderate strength training at least once a week showed a 15 percent improvement on mental skills tests.
A recent University of California-Los Angeles study of 876 men and women age 65 and older found that those who were more active had a 50 percent reduced risk of developing the memory-robbing disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends regularly exercise for older people.
Preventing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is worth breaking a sweat to exercise regularly any day of the week.