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Aging Well: How Does Physical Exercise Affect The Brain?

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Physical exercise affects the brain by helping you form social connections, maintaining or reducing weight, and improving fine motor skills. Staying active also promotes vascular health, which helps keep brain tissue healthy.

It seems like physical exercise would only benefit the body, right? It turns out, however, that staying active also gives the brain a boost. This is especially important for seniors, who tend to get more sedentary as they get older.

Why Is Exercise Important For Memory?

In getting up and moving around, a senior is more likely to harness social connections, which we already know are good for the brain.

Exercise help seniors maintain their weight, too, which again benefits their brain. Also, certain exercises can draw on a senior’s fine motor skills, keeping their hand-eye coordination impressively good.

And last but not least, getting regular exercise promotes vascular health, which in turn helps keep brain tissue healthy.

This 2017 article from cites an American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry study that discovered that hippocampus volume can go up even by doing light to moderate exercise. The key is keeping it up over the long-term. says a mix of balance, strength training, and aerobics is ideal for a healthy senior. Balance exercises may include yoga or tai chi while cardio activities are swimming, biking, and even walking.

Along with providing better physical health, getting outside and walking or biking stimulates the mind because you are seeing new things and getting a new perspective on familiar things.

In an article from Everyday Health, Dr. Robert Bender, MD, medical director of the Johnny Orr Memory Center and Healthy Aging Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, reported that, “When the brain is passive, it has a tendency to atrophy.”

This means it is very important to avoid getting into a rut by being sedentary and sitting in front of the television. Dr. Bender noted that, “some researchers believe that people are more vulnerable to dementia when they pay less attention to the things around them.

Physical Exercise For Brain Power

Which physical exercises are both easy for seniors to do and good for brain power?

Joyce Gomes-Osman, PhD, PT suggests in a Harvard Health article that aerobic exercises like cycling or running are best because they are linked to “the increased capacity of the heart, lungs, and blood to transport oxygen. As a result, generalized brain effects, such as a boost in the number of blood vessels and synapses, increasing brain volume, and decreasing age-related brain atrophy, have all been reported.

But, many seniors aren’t able to run or cycle, so what can they do? Well, there are a few low-intensity exercises that can help to boost brain health, too. These include:

Resistance Training – exercise bands for seniors
Walking – walking tracker
Tai Chi – beginners DVD
Yoga – gentle yoga for seniors
Meditation – guided meditation CD for beginners
Gardening – practical guide to gardening for seniors

It’s worth it to get up off the couch. According to UnityPoint Health, “By doing 30 minutes of cardio 3 times a week, your chances of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s decreases significantly.

*Please be sure to consult your physician before starting any exercise program. This is important.

7 Mind Stimulating Activities For Seniors

To stimulate your mind (or that of a senior loved one), try taking novel approaches to routine, day to day tasks.

  • Drive to work or back home along a different route. You’ll have to think about where you are turning or going, which will make your brain more active than your usual, learned route does. Additionally, you will see new scenery, which further interests your brain.
  • Try brushing your teeth or your hair with your opposite hand. You can also try eating and writing with your non dominant hand.
  • Cook a different food than normal to engage your sense of smell and taste, as well as learning a new recipe. Maybe you like Indian food, but have never tackled cooking a favorite dish. Buying the spices, smelling them and identifying their scent, tasting the result – all of these give your brain something new to process.
  • Say the lyrics to a song instead of singing it. Try to get as far into the song as you can by speaking the words – without resorting to humming the tune. Your brain does well with association, which is why hearing the music can help you remember the words to a song.
  • Learn something new – a foreign language, take music lessons, try a new craft.
  • Jigsaw puzzles studies have shown this activity can help to improve visual spatial reasoning and cognition.
  • Sudoku is another activity that can help to stimulate brain function, especially if you time yourself to work towards completing a puzzle in less time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I forget things so quickly?

According to memory researcher, Elizabeth Loftus, there are four major reasons for why people forget things quickly. They are: failure to store the memory, interference, retrieval failure, and motivated forgetting.

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