Exercise bolsters brain power: Get the maximum benefits from your activities

By Michele McGovern
August 17th, 2020 Health & Wellness No Comments

Exercise could be the best thing you do for yourself today – and every day. It’ll make you stronger, livelier and smarter.

Researchers recently found exercise bolsters brain power in older adults. Not only does exercise get your heart and muscles pumping. It gets your brain charged up, too.

Without getting too technical, here’s what University of California, San Francisco researchers found: When people (and mice) exercised, their livers pumped out a little-known protein. When that protein spiked a bit, out-of-shape, elderly study participants experienced rejuvenation in brain activity and memory.

Plus, loads of other research has long proven exercise protects minds and bodies from some of the declines associated with aging. Now this research suggests exercise – at any age and any level of activity – can reignite brain power, not just protect what’s there.

The best part: Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says your exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous, vigorous or exhausting. The exercise you choose should be comfortable, and perhaps most importantly, fun!

The CDC also recommends you:

  • Check with your doctor first if you’ve never exercised or haven’t in a long time
  • Ease into it, starting with short sessions of five to 10 minutes and building up to at least 30 minutes daily, and
  • Exercise daily, perhaps mixing up activities to avoid boredom and/or injuries related to doing the same thing over and over.

Here are five of the best exercises for older adults, how to practice them safely and maximize their brain and body benefits:

Walking

The basics: Walking is probably the easiest exercise to adopt, afford and maintain. You don’t need much more than sturdy walking shoes, comfortable clothes you already own and the space to walk – neighborhood sidewalks, malls, parks, nature trails, indoor or outdoor tracks, fitness center or personal treadmills. Even better, walk with a friend or family member for socialization.

Stay safe: Walk in well-light and well-travelled areas., and avoid uneven surfaces.

Maximize it: Consider getting a step counter or smart watch that counts the steps you take each day. Health experts recommend at least 3,000 daily steps, and up to 10,000. Again, start small and work your way up to longer distances and more steps. Also, to boost brain power, use your walking time with others to discuss books or hobbies.

Group exercise classes

The basics: Most recreational facilities, community centers and even some church or civic groups offer strength and cardio group exercise classes. Cardio classes will involve more movement and increase your heart rate. Strength sessions might involve light weights, bands or just body weight resistant exercises. Both types of classes should include some stretching.

Stay safe: Follow your leader’s instructions on form and effort.

Maximize it: Recruit a friend or family member to join you. Group exercise classes naturally improve physical health. The bonus is mental health improvement from the socialization that comes with classes.

Water activities

The basics: Many older adults enjoy water activities because they’re low- or even no-impact. Many community recreation centers offer water aerobic classes geared toward older adults. Or, you can try aqua walking and jogging or lap swimming of any stroke.

Stay safe: Only swim in guarded areas. Use steps, ladders or ramps to get in and out of the water.

Maximize it: Practice “swimming quietly.” When you try to make the least noise, causing little or no splashes, you will swim more efficiently and incorporate more muscles.

Yoga

The basics: Yoga is low impact and gentle on your body’s joints. It still a weight-bearing activity so it’ll require some and build more strength. You can find yoga instruction at community centers, recreational facilities, parks, online, on-demand and on DVDs. Try classes geared toward older adults such chair yoga, restorative, hatha (at least to start).

Stay safe: Talk to your doctor about taking yoga if you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries. Also, let instructors know about any conditions. Together, you can likely figure out adjustments to exercises to keep you safe and build strength.

Maximize it: Just practicing any kind of yoga can have maximum benefits. You’ll improve balance and mobility, and research has found it also helps ease back pain, relieve depression and can reduce blood pressure.

Strength training

The basics: The good thing about strength training is, at it’s minimum, you don’t need any equipment. You can practice bodyweight training. Simple bodyweight exercises include chair squats, single-leg stands, wall pushups, and stair climbing to build strength. Beyond that, try group classes that incorporate light weights and resistance bands.

Stay safe: Think small. Strength training for older adults isn’t about heavy weights. Instead, focus on small weights, proper range of motion and good form. Ideally, stick with instructor-lead strength training exercises to ensure you’re doing it right.

Maximize it: Start with the lightest weights available. Increase weight or repetitions as you gain strength.

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