Exercising the Brain for Healthy Aging

Yes, you can work out your brain!

When it comes to brain health – there’s so much focus on nutrition, supplements for the brain, brain games, and other thinking-related activities & brain enhancers. Yet many people are surprised to learn that exercise is one of the most beneficial activities that can boost and maintain brain health & cognitive abilities. For older adults, exercise benefits the body and the brain.

While researchers are still working to understand the physiological mechanisms behind exercise and better brain health, working out boosts blood flow to the brain, delivering more oxygen and nutrients. Even as scientists continue to shed light on the physiological processes behind exercise and brain health, there’s ample evidence connecting exercise to improved brain health, memory, and thinking-skills in older adults.

Although exercise probably won’t magically cure cognitive impairments or memory loss and won’t necessarily prevent these issues from setting in, staying active can benefit anyone’s brain. For older adults, there’s never been a better time to start a new fitness routine or to continue exercise habits. Let’s take a closer look at how exercise benefits the aging brain and what types of exercise should be performed.

To boost the brain, how much exercise do you need?

The optimal amount of exercise needed to reap the benefits of better brain health could vary based on the individual. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the average adult should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each week. While that sounds like quite a bit, it breaks down to 30 minutes per day over five days per week… and that’s not so bad! Just be sure to include cardio exercises and activities that get your heart pumping and increase your breathing rate. Resistance-based exercises will help too as they build muscle while benefiting the brain.

Even if you’ve never been one to exercise regularly and/or you spend a lot of time being sedentary, it’s never too late to ease into an exercise routine. Be sure to start at your own pace before working your way up to anything more vigorous. It’s always best to consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional to discuss the best types of exercise for you and also any types of activity that should be avoided.

Can exercise enhance memory?

There’s evidence that exercise can improve memory. Exercise may increase the number of and performance of neurons in brain regions that are critical to memory. Brain volume can also decline with age, but regular physical activity might slow this process. Multiple studies have indicated that exercise can benefit the performance of and even increase the volume of the brain’s hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory.

The brain is made up of many parts, and how well those parts communicate can affect your abilities to think and remember. Performing aerobic workouts, and possibly other types of exercise, could help unconnected portions of the brain’s memory center to start interacting in complex and healthy ways. Although we all love our crosswords and word searches, think about ways to bridge the gap between physical and mental exercise. For instance, at Thrive on Skidaway, the team has a life-size chess game to make sure you’re actively working your brain while also moving your body with every play… checkmate! 

Can exercise prevent cognitive impairment and dementia?

As the brain and body age, mild declines in abilities to learn and to retain information are just a natural part of aging. With age, some shrinking and atrophy of the brain is natural – but neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, can set in when the brain’s neurons lose function over time and die.

It could be making a large claim to say that exercise can definitely prevent cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases; however, staying active and consistently exercising could sharpen memory and lower the risk of dementia. Even if exercise isn’t begun until older age, it can still be beneficial in reducing disease risk and improving memory. Since everyone’s body and brain are different, the beneficial effects of exercise might differ across various groups of people and individuals – but with evidence suggesting that exercise can boost the brain and prevent disease… why not get moving?

Can exercise benefit older adults with memory loss?   

While it can be challenging for older adults who are experiencing memory loss to regularly exercise and be guided through workout routines, the benefits are clear. In terms of physical benefits, exercise will strengthen muscles and improve circulation and breathing while promoting better balance and mobility. Older adults with memory loss and dementia might also experience improved moods with exercise, reducing anxiety and depression. Memory and reasoning abilities might also get a boost from regular exercise. Families and care providers shouldn’t expect exercise to suddenly reverse symptoms and effects of memory loss… but seeing benefits is rewarding and improving the well-being of adults with memory loss is a worthwhile goal!

People with dementia and memory loss sometimes have a more difficult time moving around and may have poorer coordination, increased confusion, and tend to generally need some extra motivation to exercise and engage in physical activity. Thrive’s team is trained to help residents engage in different activities and is dedicated to safely and comfortably encouraging residents to stay active. Sometimes all that’s needed is some group motivation or extra instruction to help get them moving!

Getting plans in motion  

The science and research behind exercise and brain health continues to flourish and uncover new findings that in turn translate to new recommendations about health. While doctors and health care providers might be able to make more specific recommendations, all signs indicate that exercising promotes brain health for virtually everyone! So, channel your inner Richard Simmons!

At Thrive Senior Living, making sure that every resident is abundantly healthy, happy, and safe is our priority every single day. If you want to find out more about physical activities available at Thrive and about fitness programs for our residents, we’re always happy to take questions and share more details. Our team members know well that exercise is an essential component of overall health, and that’s why we work to encourage and involve our residents daily in activities that best suit their needs and abilities. Contact us online or call us at (404) 890-7988.