4 ways exercise benefits the mental wellness of seniors

We all know exercise helps to make us physically fit and benefits our overall well-being, but did you know it also has a positive effect on our brain? According to a study done by the Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia, weight lifting can aid the brain*.

The study took a large group of women between the ages of 65 and 75 and split them into three groups. One group began a once-weekly light upper- and lower-body weight training routine. Another followed the same routine, but added another day of training in the week. The third group—the control group—participated in twice-weekly stretching and balance training, with no upper- and lower-resistance exercises.

“Exercise can benefit physical and mental health.”

The results showed that the women who were lifting weights twice a week showed less shrinkage of white matter in the brain than the other women. Doctors also noticed the weight-lifting women walked quicker and smoother than the two other groups.

Therefore, adding an exercise routine to your week—specifically weight-lifting—can help to produce positive results for both your physical and mental health. Here are a few ways exercise can also lead to better brain health.

1. Exercise reduces anxiety and depression
According to a study by Canadian doctors George Mammen, MSc, and Guy Faulkner, PhD, even low levels of physical activity can help ward off sadness and reduce one’s chance of becoming depressed*. Consider joining a fitness class such as tai chi or dancing to keep a happy and healthy mind.

2. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain
A steady, healthy blood flow to the brain is crucial because it brings oxygen, glucose and other nutrients to the brain. In a 3-month study conducted by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas, 16 women age 60 and older who briskly walked for 30-50 minutes three or four times a week saw improved blood flow to the brain by 15 per cent*.

Use exercise machines at the fitness center to improve the blood flow to your brain.
Use exercise machines at the fitness center to improve the blood flow to your brain.

3. Exercise helps with the production of new brain cells
According to Mental Health Daily, aerobic activity, such as running or jogging, is linked to neurogenesis*. This plays a central role in neural development, which populates the brain with neurons.

4. Exercise can improve memory
A study conducted by the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of British Columbia also proved that aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, which is the area in the brain that relates to verbal memory and learning*.

Chartwell Retirement Residences believes that active living is a critical component in helping seniors to maintain their overall health and well-being. They make is easy for residents to remain physically and mentally active in their communities with an engaging activity calendar chock-full of outings, classes and events meant to promote a healthier, happier and more vibrant lifestyle. Click here.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. National Library of Medicine. "Resistance Training and White Matter Lesion Progression in Older Women: Exploratory Analysis of a 12-Month Randomized Controlled Trial"(2015), Online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26456233
  2. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. "Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression A Systematic Review of Prospective Studies"(2013), Online: http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797%2813%2900451-0/fulltext
  3. ScienceDaily. "Moderate exercise dramatically improves brain blood flow in elderly women"(2011), Online: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110412131921.htm
  4. Mental Health Daily. "Moderate exercise dramatically improves brain blood flow in elderly women"(2013), Online: http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2013/03/05/11-ways-to-grow-new-brain-cells-and-stimulate-neurogenesis/
  5. BMJJournals. "Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a 6-month randomised controlled trial"(2014), Online: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2014/03/04/bjsports-2013-093184.abstract?sid=ecff0a48-d4fd-4a9d-b34a-156ca915a79e