Alzheimers & Exercise

by Suzanne Andrews

Can exercise slow the progression of Alzheimer's or delay its onset?

Contrary to age old beliefs, aging does not have to come with loss of memory, mental decline and decreased brain functioning. Scientists now believe that decreased mental capacity comes from diminished stimulation to the brain. 

 A healthy neuron is linked to literally tens of thousands of other neurons, creating a hundred trillion connections – each with the ability to perform 200 calculations per second! But neurons don’t only connect with other neurons, they connect with muscles at a little meeting place called the neuromuscular junction and this is vital to your ability to move.

The great news is you can stimulate fresh neurons in old age because brains have what is called ‘plasticity,’ the ability of your brain to change, grow and to adapt to the challenges you feed it. Mental decline due to age usually is often a result of physical inactivity and a lack of mental stimulation. 

The word exercise means to ward off.  How appropriate: because when you exercise, your blood circulation increases: sending more oxygen and brain feeding blood sugar (glucose) to your brain. This results in a domino effect of increasing blood vessels in your brain. Your choice of exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.  Although one that is specifically designed for the brain will give you better results. Studies have shown that people who are reasonably active have a significant advantage regarding memory over people who are sedentary. Occupational therapists (therapists who specialize in improving people’s cognitive (brain) and physical function) have also studied specific exercises to find that certain types of exercises increased both brain functioning and decreased brain attack by 57%. 

 

Specific exercises have even shown to be successful as a preventative measure to Alzheimer’s disease. Even more interesting is that couch potatoes are twice as likely to develop dementia.  In order to reap the benefits of increased brain power, mental alertness, and neuron growth, you need to exercise. 

Maintaining a fit brain and a sharp memory requires regular exercise in the same way that physical fitness does. One of the best ways to exercise your brain is to challenge it with novel experiences. Something as simple as taking a different route to work will exercise your brain, as will listening to new music or eating something for dinner you've never tasted. To challenge your brain even more, perform short tasks with your non-dominant hand. Do Brain Power exercises, where you’re crossing midline with your arms, performing box steps with your legs to use both hemispheres of your brain. 

To exercise your brain on a regular basis, make it a point to change your self care routine in small but meaningful ways every day. For example, brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand. This will bring different areas of the brain into play, improve cranial blood flow, and strengthen neural connections between different areas of the brain. The regular practice of brain fitness exercises can even help to stave off dementia and Alzheimer's disease.  

Suzanne Andrews founded Functional Fitness in 2008, the most popular fitness series for boomers and seniors broadcasting on over 159 Public Television stations throughout the US and Canada. Read Suzanne’s inspiring comeback story of how she survived a near fatal accident, From Deaths Door to Producing a National Fitness Series. Feel free to send Suzanne a message here.

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