Clinicians for ages have shared the importance of exercise, emphasizing its positive impact on the heart, waistline and longevity. But exercising can be a boon to the brain as well. Physical activity actually increases the amount of oxygen that flows to your brain, improving mental acuity and concentration. The endorphins released during workouts also help to reduce incidence of depression and anxiety disorders, as well as improving your sleep patterns and mood.
Exercise can also help older adults reduce the need for some medications, and may be as effective as prescriptions for some conditions. Paired with a healthy lifestyle, working out regularly can also reduce the risk of dementia.
As you age, mind and body fitness are more important than ever. Keeping abreast of both can help you to maintain your independence and state-of-mind.
The idea of starting a new regimen later in life can be daunting, but it can be accomplished in a few easy steps.
1. Pull up a Chair
Chair exercises are an easy way to exercise safely anywhere. Using a sturdy chair, work on standing up and sitting down. Begin by sitting up straight, toward the edge of the chair. While bending slightly forward at your hips, push your weight into your heels and stand up, then sit down slowly.
2. Be Flexible
Stretching exercises are important for maintaining and improving range of motion in the joints. Stretching does not need to be unpleasant. Gentle stretches performed in a chair or while standing can provide significant improvement in range of motion, balance and fall reduction—all keys to preventing cognitive decline.
3. Join a Group
Group workout programs are a good place to start for anyone new to exercise. Groups for older adults, like Chesapeake Regional’s Silver Sneakers program, provide exercise and social interaction—which can also aid your mental wellbeing.
4. Stay Positive
Exercise, and a positive attitude, can help to reduce stress. Stress can cause an over-secretion of stress hormones that negatively affect memory. By changing your attitude and your routine, you can take the weight off of your shoulders.
5. Play Games
Your regimen shouldn't stop there; cognitive exercises like crossword puzzles and brain teasers keep the brain fit. Reading and math problems also keep the brain youthful. Research has shown that brain exercises can actually improve memory and reduce "fog.”
6. Feed Your Brain
A heart-healthy diet is also a brain-healthy diet. Damaged blood vessels, which supply the brain with blood, are linked to vascular dementia. Focus on reducing the amount of red meat in your diet and increasing your intake of fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
7. Don’t Give Up
A little bit can go a long way. As long as you are on the move and keeping your brain active, your whole body—and your future independence—will benefit.
Again, it is never too late to get started on a healthy path. However, if you start to notice changes in your memory, or someone you love is more forgetful than usual, it may be time to seek the guidance of a physician.
Erika Smith is the Fitness Coordinator at Lifestyle Health & Fitness Center.. She earned her bachelor’s of science degree in Health Promotion from Lynchburg College and her personal trainer certification through the American Fitness and Aerobics Association.