Exercises to enhance brain acuity
Resistance exercise may be the key to keeping our brains healthy and fully functioning as we age. Learn how to exercise to improve brain acuity.
Resistance exercise may be the key to keeping our brains healthy and fully functioning as we age. Learn how to exercise to improve brain acuity. As a fitness instructor I am often asked by my students if fitness and fitness classes can stimulate thinking. Some of them have older relatives whose activity levels are decreasing and who are becoming more at risk for the onset of dementia. A fitness icon My response is to ask them if they remember Jack LaLanne—the fitness guru and vegetable juice machine star of late-night infomercials—who ran his business and was as sharp as a razor until the day he died in 2011 at the age of 96. His secret to youth was his full-time commitment to fitness. “Is he the guy who was on television doing exercises in the ’50s?” they ask. “Yes,” I tell them. “He’s the one who got me into this business. I came home from school and found all the neighbourhood mothers gathered around the television saying, ‘I’m feeling muscles I never knew I had.’” He made me want to get a job where I could be a fitness icon to women, so I became a fitness instructor. Physical activity is good for the brain There is a direct relationship between physical activity and mental acuity among older adults. A recent meta-analysis of prospective studies reported that exercise may improve mental functions among seniors with dementia or mild cognitive impairment—and may also improve spatial memory among seniors in general. The analysis also noted that animal research shows that exercise generates trophic factors that improve brain functioning—and that exercise facilitates brain connections. Other animal studies suggest exercise appears to change brain structure, prompting the growth of new nerve cells and blood vessels. Exercise increases the production of neurochemicals that assist the growth, differentiation, survival, and repair of brain cells. A study conducted at the University of British Columbia (UBC) followed 86 women aged 70 to 80 years with mild cognitive impairment. Some were given hour-long sessions of aerobic training, while others were subjected to hour-long resistance training. As a control, some took hour-long balance and toning classes. All participants exercised twice weekly. Improvements in cognition were noted in both the aerobic and resistance training groups after six months. Researchers found evidence that resistance training significantly improved associative memory performance. Impaired associative memory is often a warning sign of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. In another recent study researchers noted that twice-weekly resistance training sessions had positive effects on both behavioural performance and blood flow in the cortex. The researchers suggest that these benefits provide a good complement to the positive effects that aerobic exercise has on selective attention among seniors. A group of researchers also studied 154 seniors—19 men and 135 women aged 62 to 95. The participants were placed into one of three groups: general group exercise, flexibility and relaxation, and no exercise. After six months, participants in the general exercise group performed better on cognitive tests for fluid intelligence, which involves abstract thought and problem solving, and showed improvements in aspects of mood and depression. In short, aerobics has many benefits; however, if you are looking to enhance brain function and ward off dementia, you will need progressive resistance training as well. Try some of these progressive resistance exercises: Squat : works: the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core
Reverse lunge: works: the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core
Standing row: works: the upper back, shoulders, and arms
Exercises Here are a few things you can do to stay physically active as you get older.
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol