Study suggests exercising has considerable benefits for the senior brain

A wide variety of factors help seniors enjoy a healthy retirement, but one of the most important is their level of physical activity. In addition to offering considerable benefits for their heart, weight and mobility, getting plenty of exercise may also help seniors keep their minds limber, and a new study strengthens that argument. Researchers from the University of Texas-Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth found that seniors who took part in aerobic exercise saw an improvement to their memory as well as blood flow to the hippocampus, according to results published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Significant results
The study relied on analysis of a group of adults between the ages of 57 and 75. One half of the participants took part in aerobic activities three times a week over the course of 12 weeks, while the remaining subjects remained largely sedentary. Researchers assessed cognitive function, including memory and blood flow, three times during the course of the study, and they found that those who exercised saw more significant benefits. In fact, there were improvements to blood flow even before those benefits showed up in memory. Researchers say the findings send a clear message.

“The combination of physical and mental exercise may be the best health measures to improve overall cognitive brain health,” said lead author Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman. “We have just begun to test the upper boundaries of how we can enhance our brain’s performance into late life. To think we can alter and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our thinking and get moving at any age.”

Smart choices
While the results are encouraging given that they provide a potential path toward preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline, staying active is not always easy for all older adults, especially those among the millions of Canadians who are living with some form of arthritis. However, with the right approach, seniors with arthritis can reap the considerable benefits of exercise.

Perhaps most importantly, older adults living with arthritis need to focus on certain areas of physical activity. According to the American College of Rheumatology, range-of-motion and stretching exercise are some of the best places to start. Both of these exercises can improve flexibility and strength, which results in a diminished risk of injury and can alleviate some of the pain associated with arthritis.

It’s also crucial that seniors choose the right aerobic exercises. Instead of options such as jogging or walking that can put a lot of pressure on aging joints, they may want to find alternatives such as aquatic aerobics or cycling.

Encouragement is key
Despite the many apparent benefits, some seniors may be reluctant to begin an exercise regimen, and then it is up to caregivers and other members of the family to encourage them to do so. It can be challenging to encourage sedentary seniors to get moving, but the important thing for caregivers to remember is to start slowly. Even it means going for one or two 30-minute walks each week, if it’s more than they were doing previously, it’s going to have a positive effect.

It can also be a good idea for caregivers to add some variety to the exercise routine to keep things fresh for their elderly loved ones. Whether it be encouraging them to enroll in a weekly class, adding some music, or including a new routine, it could make a significant difference.