August 21st, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Physical exercise can help elders fight memory loss

by Dorian Martin

As elders age, it’s very easy for them to become less physically active, what with the aches and pains that many have. You may also see gradual changes in aging parents such as a reduced interest in doing things or going places. However, inactivity may be the worst thing for elders, especially if they’re worried about Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

HealthDay reports on the role of exercise in shielding the aging brain. Three new preliminary studies show that certain types of physical activity can help protect against conditions such as memory loss.

Walking and weight training for brain health

The first study involved 120 sedentary older adults who didn’t have dementia. One group of participants was involved in stretching and toning, while the other group walked 30-45 minutes three times a week to get aerobic exercise. At the end of the year, the researchers did MRI scans of the participants’ brains. They found that the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for memory — increased by 2 percent in the group that walked, but it decreased by 1.5 percent for the participants in the stretching group.

Interestingly, both groups performed better on thinking and memory tests. These findings have led the researchers to hypothesize that different types of exercise may boost different aspects of brain health.

A second study involved 86 women between the ages of 70-80 who were experiencing mild mental decline. These women were separated into three groups. The first group did weight training twice a week, and a second group had an aerobic workout through walking twice a week. The third group participated in balance and toning exercises twice a week.

In evaluations six months later, the weight training group performed significantly better on tests of attention and memory compared to the other two groups and also had functioning changes in three brain regions that are involved in memory. The group that walked for aerobic exercise had improved balance, mobility and cardiovascular capacity.

A third study involved 47 older adults with mild cognitive impairment. One group did 90 minutes of supervised exercise with strength training, aerobics and balance exercises twice a week for a year, while the other group had a few sessions of health education. Both groups showed memory improvements after a year, but the exercise group performed better on assessments for memory and ability to use language.

These studies underscore the importance of life-long physical activity. If your loved one needs ideas on how to exercise, check out the Go4Life program from the National Institute on Aging. The Go4Life website lists additional benefits of exercise, for example, possible improvement of overall mood and well-being. This program also has tips on how caregivers can encourage safe physical activities for seniors and people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Posted in Caregiving, Dementia | 2 Comments »
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2 Comments to “Physical exercise can help elders fight memory loss”

  1. Dorian Martin

    Thank you very much for the feedback!

  2. Will Savage

    Great points all around. Thank you for the post and information.

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