Exercise For Brain Power
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | October 22, 2003

One of the greatest fears people over 60 have is the fear of losing their memories and mental abilities. All of us think about being able to function well mentally as we get older; it just seems more relevant the closer we are to 60 or so. The recent Better Life Unlimited publication Growing Old Gracefully covers the basic diet and supplementation program necessary for sustaining mental abilities, as well as many other health issues. In addition, recent research has shown that exercise may be more important than ever to maintain brain power.

With magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists can get an accurate picture of the inside of the body--in this case, specific regions of the brain. In comparing the white matter, gray matter, and other regions of the brain, they found that the quantity of brain matter appears to decline with age. That prompted scientists to look for differences in the decline in brain tissue in people 55 and older with different activity levels (1). What they found was that the greater the level of exercise, the less gray matter declined. It didn't stop the decline completely but after adjusting for other factors, those who exercised didn't just benefit physically, they also benefited mentally.

Exercise may help more than just gray matter. In another study, researchers examined memory, impaired glucose metabolism (2), and the hippocampal region of the brain, the area thought to be responsible for memory. They discovered a relationship between impaired glucose metabolism and a smaller hippocampal region. What does exercise have to do with glucose metabolism? Everything. Those who exercise regularly are better able to regulate blood sugar; therefore atrophy of the hippocampal region may not occur and memories may be retained longer.

Even though these are preliminary studies, it seems clear that regular exercise is important to retaining brain power as we age. You don't have to spend hours in the gym to get the benefits--a simple 30-45 minute walk every day is enough to get the benefits of exercise.

That's why we'll soon be adding a walking booklet to our current list of exercise aids--we want to help you physically and mentally.

References:

  1. Colcombe SJ, et al. Aerobic fitness reduces brain tissue loss in aging humans. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003;58(2):176-80.
  2. Convit A, et al. Reduced glucose tolerance is associated with poor memory performance and hippocampal atrophy among normal elderly. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003;100(4):2019-22.
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