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Undisputed Secret to the Healthy Senior Brain

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Friday, October 12, 2012

The Brain Tree

In the year 2000 there were about 600 million people on the planet who were 60 years old or more. By 2050 there will be at least 2 billion. Health care for seniors is and will become an increasingly difficult challenge for society and individually. One critical area is the inevitable decline in “cognitive functioning”, or normal mental capacity for thought, memory, perception and reasoning. Recent research has found that “higher levels of aerobic fitness in older individuals are associated in improved cognition.” 

Regular exercise, when the heart is pumping at reasonable effective levels, has been proven as a drug-free method to decrease stiffness in blood vessels, diminish the plaque commonly found within blood vessels (vascular inflammation), and, above all, increase healthy blood flow in the brain (endothelial function). 

The hippocampus, a major part of the brain, shrinks by at least 1% or 2% annually after the age of 50. For people with Alzheimer’s, this is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected. Regular exercise and a high level of fitness “are associated with increases in the volume of cerebral gray matter (neurons) and white matter (mylinated axons) in older adults.” The rate of hippocampus decline is significantly reduced.

Numerous studies have found physically active men and women 65 years and older “were less likely to experience cognitive decline” than their relatively inactive counterparts. Another more compelling finding is that Intellectual stimulation, combined with regular exercise, “may lead to the development of neural structures that synergize with exercise-induced brain changes.”

Combining mental activities like reading, puzzles, and board games with physical activity have had unexpected, significant results for the aging brain.

Estimates are that only about 5% of Americans and Canadians 60 years and older accomplish the recommended 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week, of moderate or rigorous physical activity. Researchers conclude that: “Exercise could well turn out to be the most convenient, practical, and cost-effective way to ameliorate age-related declines in cognition while mitigating other age-related diseases. The benefits have the potential to improve health with advancing age and to significantly reduce the anticipated and rapidly escalating costs associated with age-related cognitive impairment and dementia facing our aging society.”

Davenport, Hogan, Eskes, Longman and Poulin, “Cerebrovascular Reserve: The Link Between Fitness and Cognitive Function?” Exercise and Sport Science Reviews (The American College of Sports Medicine), July 2012  

Photo: doubledcop  (flickr)

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.