Clare Edwards

Experts Agree: Stay Active to Keep Sharp

Clare Edwards, Community Education Supervisor, SourcePoint

Staying sharp as we grow older is essential. In fact, a survey from AARP discovered that 93 percent of Americans feel that maintaining brain health is very important. Although most people would agree that brain health is critical, many of us don’t know how to support it as we age.

Cognitive impairment or trouble with mental health processes, such as decision-making, memory, and language, can affect our ability to engage in activities of everyday life. Several conditions contribute to cognitive impairment in people of all ages, but specific conditions that largely affect older adults include stroke, brain injury, and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 795,000 people suffer from a stroke each year, Americans over the age of 75 have the highest rates of hospitalizations for traumatic brain injuries, and more than five million people in the United States alone are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease.

The National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association, and AARP all suggest that people interested in maintaining a healthy brain should get physical activity, eat healthfully, manage stress, engage in social activities, and constantly challenge their minds. The Dana Foundation adds that getting enough sleep contributes to brain health, as well. This fall, SourcePoint will be tackling these topics on our blog and giving tips for achieving each one in your life. In this first installment, we will focus on exercise.
It is undeniable that lifestyle plays a role in brain health as we age. The Dana Foundation reminds us that,

“What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.”

The CDC recommends that older adults over age 65 engage in two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity (or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities two or more times per week.

Studies show that physical activity has a significant positive effect on physical fitness, cognitive function, and levels of a certain protein, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), that aids in support of existing brain cells, or neurons, and encourages growth of new neurons, as well as the connections between them (Byun & Kang, 2016). In participants over 65 years old, research suggests cognitive measures improve with exercise and that greater effects are seen with increased amounts of exercise (Vidoni et al., 2015). Specifically, improvements in attention, processing speed, executive function, and aspects of memory have been demonstrated in groups who engage in physical activity (Smith et al., 2010). Finally, even in adults that already have perceived memory problems, further cognitive decline may be delayed by keeping fit (Ellison, 2016).

So how do you incorporate more physical activity in your life?

There are lots of exercises you can do at home. Examples include brisk walking in your neighborhood or a nearby mall, gardening, or stretching while watching a television show. Additional options include finding a yoga or tai chi class to attend with a friend, joining community exercise groups, or looking into a Silver Sneakers membership at SourcePoint. Make sure to consult your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.

Brain Health Series