Exercise Improves Memory and Brain Function

By Carol Ann Donnelly

We have all witnessed older loved ones search for words during a conversation or not be able to recall something that recently happened. We have seen them struggle with an unsteady gait or watched them strain to do simple tasks after an illness. We may have experienced some of these issues ourselves, but we don’t have to accept these changes as a fact of old age. There is evidence that exercise can improve and, in some cases, reverse these issues associated with aging.

Studies done at the University of British Columbia and the University of Texas, at Dallas, showed that regular physical exercise helped healthy adults improve their memory and brain function. Not to mention, their overall health. All it took was two hours of aerobic exercise each week, which means any form of exercise that increases the heart rate and gets the sweat glands pumping—a brisk walk, for example. In fact, regular aerobic exercise appeared to increase the size of the hippocampus that controls verbal memory and learning. This is great news for those of us who walk into a room and forget why we went in there.

Exercise directly helps memory and thinking by reducing insulin resistance, reducing inflammation and stimulating chemicals in the brain that promote healthier brain cells and the endurance of new brain cells. Of course, exercise releases endorphins which improves mood and reduces stress, and that leads to a more restful night’s sleep. Mood, stress and sleep deprivation all negatively impact cognitive processes.

Forgetting where we put our house keys is bad enough, but then we add struggling with our balance to the mix. The good news is, exercising can improve balance which will reduce and can even eliminate the shuffle-walk. Kerry McElroy, owner of Barbelle—Real Fitness for Women Center, in Swansea, Massachusetts teaches a senior strength and stretch class, although she does not call it that. “I don’t want to keep anyone out of the class,” she said.

McElroy uses TRX (total body resistance exercise) that uses gravity and a person’s body weight in conjunction with straps to promote strength, range of motion and improved balance.

“I’m not a big machine user,” McElroy said.

She also has her clients do lateral movement exercises, such as standing on one foot to improve balance. And, she uses simple exercises, such as a ball pass to improve hand-eye coordination and depth perception.

There is the social component to McElroy’s class. These classes are opportunities for seniors to meet other people. “I teach this class very differently than the other classes. I let the needs their [the participants]needs drive the class.”

McElroy opened Barbelle’s eleven years ago with a simple mission to provide women a safe and supportive work out environment. She wants everyone who goes to her facility to have a positive experience, no matter what shape, size or fitness level.

Barbelle—Real Fitness for Women recently teamed up with the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, and was a featured demonstrator at the Foundation’s annual Passport toWellness Conference earlier this month.

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