Do Your Aging Brain a Favor: Be Active!

Aging Brain

One of the greatest concerns about the aging process is the decline in memory and cognitive processing. Numerous studies have explored the role of physical activity in decreasing the potential for various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Promotion of healthy outcomes for the aging brain (Merzenich, 2012) requires a comprehensive approach that blends physical activity with cognitive and social-emotional stimulation. This article discusses varied approaches to take when planning physical activity programs for groups and individuals in late middle age.

Keep Your Audience Engaged!

One of the challenges with consistent long-term physical activity planning is sticking to the plan! Dr. Michael Merzenich of BrainHQ, in conversation with Dr. Mercola, describes the need for engaging in activity that matters (Merzenich, 2012). Is the selected activity one that the person enjoys and considers relevant? A second point is to include novelty in a program. This happens when the element of surprise occurs. It may be altering the setting for physical activity or introducing a new form.

One example of how to expand on a widely used form of activity is Nordic Pole Walking (McMaster University, 2014). Adding poles to the walking experience strengthens muscles in the back, chest, arms and shoulders. It heightens cognitive processing as a person adjusts to the use of poles by altering stride and pace. Introduction of the poles can be gradual to assure a person’s comfort and sense of achievement.


Aligning Body and Brain Agility!

People’s experiences with physical activity vary, with their choices being based on various factors. These include the influences of time and finances; preferences of loved ones and friends; or the local climate and geography. Consider factors such as these when preparing to introduce novelty in the form of constraint-focused agility exercise (Aman, Elangovan, Yeh, & Konczak, 2014). Taking this step stimulates sensorimotor engagement as it progressively challenges coordination with gradual increases in resistance.

Constraint-focused agility for body and brain comes in many options. These include Tai Chi, kayaking, lunges, Pilates, and boxing. Program participants begin at each individual’s ability level, knowing that constraint will increase along with skill and strength. Sensorimotor actions promoted by activities such as these encourage brain health by stimulating brain function.

Researchers associated with Harvard Medical School observed such benefits with Tai Chi. They found that seniors who participated in a 12-week program gained overall functional ability, along with improvements in balance and gait, particularly when compared with a control group (Mineo, 2017). In 2015 researchers conducted a systematic review of studies focused on Pilates. The review’s findings suggest that Pilates, including seated variations, improve the balance of older adults, particularly when compared with those who do not engage in regular activity or exercise (Barker, Bird, & Talevski, 2015).

Consider too how these agility-focused activities affect proprioception, thus adding one more contributor to brain health. A systematic review by Aman, et al. (2014) suggests further study of proprioceptive training and its potential benefits to sensorimotor function.

Want to Learn More?

SMARTfit™ fitness products provide activity techniques that align with this article’s content in the promotion of brain health during aging. SMARTfit™ provides educational resources, along with fitness equipment, to promote the overall wellbeing of people from preschool aged children to advanced elders. To learn more about the topic of activity and healthy aging please call 1-800-900-8542 x 110.


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