Friday, September 3, 2010

Brain's Best Prescription? - Exercise!

As the owner of a home care agency who deals (primarily) with the elderly, I have a front row seat to see what is happening to our minds and bodies as we age. And I keep up with the research. I wonder how many of these same people would still be going through the drive thru's if they knew what I know and could see what I see on a daily basis.

There is really no longer any debate. Being active and exercising is probably the most protective medicine we have for our minds as we age. Several recent studies have shown improvement in Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) when the subjects exercised regularly. This is important because about 15% of those with MCI can expect to progress to Alzheimer's. And older adults who keep active have a nearly 40% reduction in even getting MCI. We are realizing that we need to focus on prevention of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's or, short of that, fighting them as early on as possible.

Long term exposure to physical and mental stressors results in something called oxidative stress. This oxidative stress lowers the brains vulnerability to diseases such as-you guessed it-Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Parkinson's is another brain disease resulting from oxidative stress. Getting regular aerobic exercise at least 5 days per week can actually shield the brain from this stress.

Strength training is important too. Recently researchers assessed the strength of about 1000 dementia free people aged 54 to 100. They followed the group for 4 years noting the strength of nine major muscle groups. Those who ranked in the top ten percent for strength had a whopping 61% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than the lowest 10%!

Need more convincing? How about a 2008 study published in Neurology where researchers measured the midsections of 6500 middle aged adults in the 1960's and 70's and followed up with them 36 years later. The ones who had the most abdominal fat in their 40's were three times more likely to develop dementia in their later years than those who had the least fat around the middle.

Even as a normal brain ages, loss of neuronal connections, blockages of blood supply and decrease in nerve-signaling chemicals all factor in to decline of brain function. For a long time we thought it was impossible to grow new brain cells. Turns out this is not true. Studies by Fred Gage, Ph.D. and colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have shown the more physical exercise you get, the more brain cells you grow, the longer they live and the better they connect with other cells.

Brisk walking for just 40 minutes four times/week increases the blood flow to areas of the brain that are able to grow new brain cells. He has concluded that movement is so vital to brain health that a lot of the cognitive decline we conclude is inevitable due to the aging process is really due to being couch potatoes.

Theanna L. Zika began Heavenly Helpers Senior Home Care in 2004 with a vision to "raise the bar" on the quality of existing home care for seniors. Heavenly Helpers is an independent, non medical home care agency proudly serving the St. Louis, Missouri Metro area. While our office is located in the heart of Webster Groves, we provide care throughout St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson County. For more information, please visit us at

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Theanna L Zika - EzineArticles Expert Author

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