Exercise Gives the Brain a Boost
We all need to exercise regularly for optimum health, but physical activity may be particularly beneficial for the aging female brain
In the United States, the population of people 65 and older has increased by about 16% since 1990, while the "oldest old," those 85 and up, has increased by an incredible 42%. About 10% of people 65 and older are affected by Alzheimer's disease and up to half of those 85 and up have the disease.
The intersection of these trends means that many millions of people will struggle with thinking (cognitive) decline in the coming years. Anything that can be done to lessen this burden of disease is welcome news. It turns out exercise may be just the ticket.
Women benefit greatly
To study the effects of exercise on cognitive function, researchers randomly selected 33 senior men and women (average age 70) to complete a six-month exercise program. Study subjects participated in four supervised weekly sessions of either high-intensity aerobic activity or a stretching program.
Blood samples were collected and analyzed for various markers of health, such as insulin, the "stress hormone" cortisol, and blood sugar (glucose) levels. Aspects of cognitive and higher brain ("executive") function, such as memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to learn a list were measured.
After six months, the researchers found that:
The researchers noted that the aerobic exercise benefits were greatest for women in the preclinical stages of Alzheimer's disease, when cognitive impairment is mild.
Putting it into practice
We all need to exercise regularly for optimum health, but physical activity may be particularly beneficial for the aging female brain. To stay sharp, keep the following points in mind:
(Arch Neurol 2010; 67:71-9; The 65 Years and Over Population. Available at: www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-10.pdf)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.