How Exercise Benefits the Aging Brain

While medical experts and doctors are searching for cures and vaccinations to some of the diseases that affect the older generations, others say that the answer is right in front of us. Many agree that the answer to an aging brain isn’t to cure the symptoms but to treat the problem. The problem with aging is that new cells aren’t birthed as quickly as they once did. You’ve probably seen this in your own life.

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Minor cuts don’t seem to heal as fast as they once did and muscles take longer to recuperate from strain and stresses. That’s the sign that the body isn’t producing cells as fast as they do in children.

The brain is no different with new brain cells being created less and less often. When old cells die, new cells can’t replace them at the same rate they once did. That translates into diseases like dementia or loss of basic functions and memory. There are ways to reverse this trend. Regular exercise is now shown not just to benefit the heart, but the brain as well. Here are some of the exciting results that demonstrate how important wellness and exercise are to long lasting brain health.

Blood to the Brain Means Cells to the Rescue

Cardio exercise is meant to boost blood flow through the heart and brain. For years, the health benefits have been understood that more blood, and therefore more oxygen to the heart, keeps it healthy and strong well into the latter years of a person’s life. That’s not all it does. Brains with extra oxygen have been shown to reverse the trend to shrink, and have even been shown to expand. This is good news for those who are concerned about reduced brain abilities and loss of functions.

The studies state that age-related changes are significantly lower in those who regularly exercise their bodies beyond stretching and toning. In fact, the cells that grow are also able to repair damaged cells at a faster rate.

Exercise doesn’t just increase blood flow; it also stimulates the release of healthy hormones. These hormones actually trigger growth and repair of damaged cells. They are linked to improved health and happiness. This wellness is the key to preventing some serious effects of an aging brain.

Exercise Helps With Memory Loss

Short term memory loss is a common sign of aging. It starts with simple forgetfulness but it can have dramatic effects on those who need to manage medication or operate vehicles. Regular exercise, the type that brings out a light sweat helps the brain retain and create memories. There is a coating on the brain’s cells called myelin. Scientists are still trying to understand this chemical. Tennis players have an excess of myelin, as well as musicians and surgeons. It’s associated with focus and memory. The more myelin, the more a brain can process new information, create new links, and strengthen those links over time. In simpler terms, that translates to better memory and improved focus.

Exercise increases the production of myelin in the brain. It’s the difference between being able to remember a name or focus on a task, or having another one of those forgetful moments.

Wellness and Regular Exercise Creates Good Mental Health

A large part of the aging brain is related to a person’s will and mental strength. Their ability to remain flexible, adaptable, and open to change is a big factor in living longer. Those who exercise have been shown to have good emotional resilience, or in other words, a strong ability to adapt with life’s changes. Doctors have always known that those who recover from cancer or a debilitating injury are those who are mentally tough.

Exercise also reduces anxiety and stress, big contributors to the aging brains problems. People have been reducing stress through exercise as soon as the word was invented, so that’s nothing new. Exercise releases neurochemicals into the brain that help it to relax. Moods are improved, alertness is increased, and the brain can better process new information. These are all opposite effects to what a stagnant aging brain goes through. It deteriorates and loses the ability to process information, remain alert and sends the person into depressive, anxious states of mind.

Brain Health Reduces the Risk of Brain Illnesses

The big three symptoms of an aging brain are dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes. With a healthy brain that has improved in size and resilience through regular exercise, the risk of those afflictions drops dramatically. The numbers are astonishing. With only one hour of moderate exercise a week, the risk of a stroke drops by 40%, dementia drops by 82%, and the big one, Alzheimer’s drops in risk as well.

Exercise Improves the Brain’s Ability to Release Insulin

As the body ages, so does the brain’s ability to keep up with the demands on aging organs. The brain doesn’t send signals for hormones as quickly anymore, which can be damaging when it comes to insulin. This is essential in processing sugar in our bodies and keeping it from building up as fat. Insulin production is affected with Type 2 Diabetes, a condition that is entirely manageable with regular exercise. When the brain is provided with regular exercise and increased blood flow, it produces more hormones such as insulin. The body can better do its job because the brain is active and responsive.

The signs of aging are varied and wide. There is an ancient proverb that states that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. This is the same as with the brain. The best time to start regular exercise to reverse the effects of aging is today. At least 1 hour per week or moderate exercise or 30 minutes of light exercise a few times a week can take years off an aging brain.

To learn more about the benefits of exercise and its impact on brain health, contact the team at HTS Therapy who specialize in providing therapy and exercise to promote wellness and complete health.  Also learn more about our MoveWell: Active Aging Redefined; a whole-person wellness model designed by exercise physiologists and therapists to engage every resident and all abilities in your senior living community.

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