Exercise and the Connection to Brain Health

Sunrise Senior Living  |  June 3, 2020
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The theory that exercise might slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia isn’t new. Research indicates that regular exercise might not only reduce memory loss, but also help keep memory intact. One study is particularly interesting.

Researchers examined how exercise, over the course of a lifetime, can protect cognitive abilities. At a time when 50 million people around the world live with some form of dementia, and 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year, having a clearer understanding of how physical activity can protect memory is essential.

Linking Exercise to Better Memory

In simplest terms, UBC researchers studied how the brain protects memory and thinking skills. They found that routinely engaging in aerobic exercise seemed to boost the size of the hippocampus. This is the area of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. As we age, the hippocampus typically decreases in size. By engaging in aerobic activities, we may be able to maintain the hippocampus.

There are other benefits of exercise that may protect your cognitive health as well. Here are several brain health benefits to consider:

  • Insulin resistance: As research continues to link blood sugar to brain health, this is an important one. Some experts say that Alzheimer’s may actually be another form of diabetes.
  • Reduce inflammation: We know that the presence of inflammation in the body is tied to a variety of illnesses ranging from heart disease to autoimmune conditions. Many scientists believe there is a link to Alzheimer’s disease, as well.
  • Stimulate release of growth factors: Exercise might spur the release of chemicals in the brain responsible for maintaining the health of brain cells. Activity may also increase the development of new blood vessels in the brain.

Regular exercise also helps to improve mood, reduce stress, and promote better sleep. Each of these benefits is linked to better overall health and wellness, including for your brain.

Senior-Friendly Forms of Aerobic Activity

It’s important to remember that aerobic activities are those that increase your heart rate and get the blood pumping. While resistance training and weights are important for core strength and balance as you age, they don’t count as being aerobic.

There are many forms of senior-friendly aerobic activities to try:

  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Elliptical machine

If you need to engage in physical activity while also social distancing, here are a few options for working out at home:

  • Marching in place
  • Riding a recumbent bicycle
  • Walking on a treadmill
  • Enjoying chair aerobics
  • Practicing tai chi

As is true of any new form of exercise, talk with your physician for advice before getting started.

Programs and Activities at Sunrise

At Sunrise, team members are continuing to help residents Live with Action even while practicing expanded social distancing and infection control amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes one-on-one and independent activities in residents suites and, when and where possible, walks and exercise outside on community grounds.

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