You already know that exercise is good for your body—but did you also know it’s good for your brain? It’s true, the brain-boosting powers of exercise are nothing short of amazing. So it’s no surprise that “Move” is the first of the “5 pillars of brain health” uncovered by AARP’s Staying Sharp. This week, we will delve more deeply into the connection between exercise and the brain, and in a subsequent blog post we will explore the second pillar: Discover.
AARP points to recent research by Owen Carmichael, associate professor and director of biomedical imaging at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, which suggests that exercise can help you stay alert and boost your productivity during the day.
“Aerobic exercise has at least two key brain-boosting effects,” stated Carmichael. “First, it helps the heart pump blood to the brain more efficiently, making vital blood-borne nutrients more readily available to brain tissue. Second, it promotes the secretion of certain molecules called neurotrophic factors, which help the brain grow, repair and maintain neurons.”
This effect on neurons has big implications for combatting aging-related changes to the brain—and that’s the exact type of thing that the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging was designed to examine. It is a long-term population-based cohort study, which means the same group of people—or cohort—is tracked over many years. The study began in 2004; and in 2010, a paper was published outlining some very interesting data about exercise’s ability to keep the brain young.
The goal of the study was to expand upon previous research that showed that physical exercise was associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to see how it related to mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The results of the study showed that any frequency of moderate-intensity exercise carried out during midlife (age 50 to 65) or during later years was associated with reduced odds of MCI.
Beyond this, it showed that there was a “protective” effect associated with light-intensity and vigorous-intensity exercise. So the important take-away messages from this study is that any intensity of exercise at any frequency has the potential to benefit the brain.
Although studies like these make it clear that exercise can do amazing things for the mind, many people wonder exactly how this is possible. A study from August 2015 sought to answer this question by examining how oxygen is related to changes in the brain and nerve processing—features that correlate to better brain function and memory as people age.
The participants in this study were 100 relatively healthy men and women ages 60 to 80 who reported various levels of physical activity. During the week-long study, they wore an accelerometer that measured their physical activity and had their oxygen consumption measured.
“As expected, the people with higher fitness levels were the same ones that were more physically active during the week,” states Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. “They were also the same people who showed more positive oxygen related changes and MRI findings consistent with faster nerve processing in the brain.”
Does this research have you feeling motivated to get moving? Join one of the great health and wellness programs here at Southgate at Shrewsbury. Here are a few you can take advantage of during the coming month:
Seated Exercise & Balance
Aquatic Exercise Classes
Log into our residents’ website to view the event calendar, for even more programs to help you stay active, athletic and mentally agile.