Fight Off Dementia by Being Physically Active Well Into Your Senior Years


Exercise is good not just for your body, but for your brain too. A study by University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) USA has found that when older people with mild memory loss exercised consistently for a year, blood flow to their brains increased.

The results of the study were published in March 2021 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. In the study, UTSW researchers invited a group of 70 sedentary men and women to engage in physical activity. The subjects were aged 55 to 80 and had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This is a condition where the brain suffers slight changes that affect reasoning skills, memory, and decision-making. About a fifth of people above age 65 suffer a level of MCI, which in many cases progresses to dementia.

Although scientists have not yet positively identified the causes of MCI, there is evidence that changes in the flow of blood to the brain may be a contributing factor. If the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, it can lose its vitality. Studies suggest that consistent aerobic exercise may improve memory in older adults. In the UTSW study, after a year on the exercise program, the blood flow to the subjects’ brains increased.

Keep movements brisk

The study participants were first put through fitness tests, cognitive examinations, and brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. After this, Rong Zhang, Ph.D., the leader of the study, and C. Munro Cullum, co-senior author of the study and their associates assigned the participants randomly to either a moderate aerobic program or a control stretching program. Zhang is a professor of neurology, and Cullum is a professor of psychiatry, at UTSW.

The aerobic exercises comprised three to five 30 to 40-minute sessions of moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, a week. The participants who exercised were instructed to keep their movements vigorous to raise their heartbeats and breathing noticeably. They could opt to ride bikes, swim, or engage in ballroom dancing. However, the majority chose to take a brisk walk.

Exercise physiologists supervised the participants in both groups for the first four to six weeks. After that, participants were asked to wear a heart rate monitor during exercise and record their movements.

Twenty-nine participants in the stretching and 19 in the aerobics groups completed the training and went back for follow-up tests. The aerobics group was fitter, recorded more oxygen consumption, increased blood flow to the brain, and decreased stiffness of the blood vessels in the neck. The stretchers did not record such changes and their endurance had not changed.

Most telling perhaps, the aerobics group performed better than the stretch group in some thinking skills involving planning and decision-making. However, both groups improved their scores slightly on memory tests. Therefore, any physical activity, and again perhaps even the social contact with the researchers, seemed to have staved off cognitive decline in the study participants. Still, the researchers believe energetic movement delivers more cognitive benefits than gentle stretching.

Any activity, even housework, is good for you

The UTSW scientists have already embarked on a larger two-year study titled “Risk Reduction for Alzheimer’s Disease” that will further investigate the link between exercise, memory loss, and other cognitive activities.

The UTSW study ties in with the conclusion of earlier research that 45 minutes of walking for three days a week boosts the brain volume of people aged 65 and above. Moreover, a study published in January 2019 in the online issue of Neurology, concluded that in addition to exercise, housework like cooking or cleaning improves brain health for older adults.

Dr. Aron S. Buchman, associated with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, USA, led this study. The research was unique in that participants had agreed to bequeath their brains for research, so Buchman was able to examine the brains of study participants after their death.

The 20-year study involved 454 adults, who were 70 years or older when the research began. Of the participants, 191 showed behavioral signs of dementia while 263 did not. Thinking and memory tests were administered to the participants every year for 20 years.

For the last years of research before their deaths, participants wore a monitor that recorded physical activity around the clock. From an analysis of 10 days of movement, researchers calculated an average daily activity score for the participants.

From the findings, researchers concluded that higher physical activity led to improved thinking and memory skills. When he examined brain tissue under a microscope, Buchman confirmed these findings, even for participants who had exhibited three signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Aerobic exercise and physical activity is good for you at any age. However, it’s especially crucial in your senior years; it changes your brain for the better. So, put on your walking shoes and get moving for the good health of your brain.

Living at Baxter Senior Living in Anchorage Alaska At Baxter Senior Living, we work to ensure that our community is an extension of your loved ones family. If you are at a place in your life that you need to discuss Anchorage Assisted Living, Anchorage Memory Care, or Anchorage Respite Care please reach out today. We are happy to help answer any questions. Contact a Baxter Senior Living Representative today! 907-865-3500

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