The impact of exercise on the body and brain health of America’s seniors
by John Grimaldi
Every year at this time there is a call for seniors to establish an exercise routine. The holidays are over and so is the copious feasting that goes with the season. It’s time to lose a few pounds.
The Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] strongly encourages older Americans to stay in shape. But we offer this advice with an abundance of caution. Your health care providers call the shots and we recommend that seniors heed their advice when it comes to what you should or should not do for exercise, says AMAC’s CEO Rebecca Weber.
Dr. Andrew E. Budson is chief of cognitive & behavioral neurology at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School, and chair of the Science of Learning Innovation Group at the Harvard Medical School Academy. He says that “Changes in strength, swiftness, and stamina with age are all associated with decreasing muscle mass. Although there is not much decline in your muscles between ages 20 and 40, after age 40 there can be a decline of 1% to 2% per year in lean body mass and 1.5% to 5% per year in strength.”
Dr. Budson notes that aging can also raise coordination issues as we grow older, issues that are associated to the brain and nervous system. He says that reduced strength and coordination, too, is the result of a lack of physical activity.
Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy specialist Brock Armstrong, agrees. He says “Exercise affects the brain in many ways. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It aids the release of hormones which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain. Research from UCLA even demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain which makes it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.”
The National Institutes of Health [NIH] also tells us that as we age cognitive issues may emerge. For example, it can get harder to make quick decisions. “Age-related diseases accelerate the rate of neuronal dysfunction, neuronal loss, and cognitive decline, with many persons developing cognitive impairments severe enough to impair their everyday functional abilities, the definition of dementia. There is growing evidence that healthy lifestyles may decrease the rate of cognitive decline seen with aging and help delay the onset of cognitive symptoms in the setting of age-associated diseases.”
In other words, says AMAC’s Weber, exercise can be good for the brain and body as we age; talk to your doctor about it. He or she can help you design an exercise regimen tailored to your needs.