As part of our commitment to keeping our readers updated on the latest research and findings on Alzheimer’s disease, we are sharing a study from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. While exercise is known to be a critical factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there is growing evidence to indicate it may also be good for the brain.
Exercise May Be Linked to Improved Brain Health
The study by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is the first research trial to demonstrate how exercise can be used as an intervention technique for older adults who live with a mild cognitive impairment.
The trial showed that exercise not only improves memory recall but also improved brain function. Physically inactive older adults ranging in age from 60-88 years old were divided in to two groups. The average age of study participants was 78. One group was comprised of older adults living with mild cognitive impairment and the other with normal, healthy brain function. Each group followed a 12-week program of regular treadmill walking. Exercise was supervised by a personal trainer.
By the end of the study, both groups had improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent. They also improved their memory performance and showed improvements in neural efficiency when involved in memory retrieval tasks.
The Bottom Line on Exercise for Alzheimer’s Prevention
The bottom line is that the amount of exercise participants engaged in during the trial isn’t overly aggressive. It is the same recommendation most physicians are already making to patients. That is, you should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise (that which raises your heart rate but allows you to maintain a conversation) five days a week.
Just one more reason to lace up your sneakers and head out for a walk each day!
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Falls continue to be one of the leading causes of fatal injuries for older adults in this country. It is why finding ways to prevent them continues to be a focus of so many aging-related researchers. One study that might be of interest to our readers was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June. The article, Effect of Structured Physical Activity on Prevention of Major Mobility Disability in Older Adults, explored how walking might help seniors beat or decrease their odds of being injured in a fall.
What Role Does Walking Play in Fall Prevention?
The goal of the project was to evaluate the potential link between older adults levels of physical activity and the role exercise could play in preventing disability. While seniors are often afraid a more active lifestyle will increase their odds of experiencing a disabling fall, this study took the opposite approach. Researchers posed a different question. Could higher levels of daily physical activity be considered a sound fall prevention practice?
The two-year long study was made up of 1,635 people between the ages of 70 and 89 years of age. Older adults chosen to participate in the project were considered to be sedentary by scoring low on a senior fitness scale. Each of them was able to walk one-quarter of a mile unassisted when the study began.
During the trial:
- Participants came to a research center once a month for education on a variety of topics related to healthy aging.
- A sub-group of participants was randomly assigned to also participate in a twice-weekly fitness program at the center. This group underwent supervised stretching activities and walks. In addition to the organized exercise activities, members of this sub-group also exercised on their own three hours each week.
- Every trial study member was assessed twice each year during the study to see if they could still complete a quarter-mile walk.
At the study’s conclusion, researchers found that those who were also enrolled in the exercise subgroup were 18% less likely to have suffered any short-term physical disability during the trial and 28% less likely to have had a permanent disability.
Talk with Your Primary Care Physician First
If you or a senior loved one lead a sedentary lifestyle, the results of this study should be motivation for making a change. Talk with your primary care physician first. Ask them for their help in determining the safest way to begin increasing your level of physical activity.
Heritage Senior Communities is pleased to announce that our newest community is set to open this month in Holland, Michigan. The Village at Appledorn West will offer adults over the age of 55 one- and two-bedroom independent living apartments. The campus will also be expanded to include assisted living in the spring of 2015.
Now that the snow is finally behind us for another year, it’s a great time to head outdoors and get moving again. Older adults often see the numbers on the scale creep up during winter months. It’s often because they avoid going outdoors during a Michigan winter for fear of falling on the ice and snow. A less active lifestyle often results in weight gain. Walking has both physical and mental health benefits, as well as the added benefit of helping you safely drop those extra pounds.
Here are a few tips on how to get started with your own walking program.
Tips for Older Adults Beginning a Walking Program
- As with any form of exercise, check with your family physician before starting. Ask for their approval and any advice they can share. They will likely encourage you to begin slowly and build up your endurance.
- Invest in a good pair of walking shoes that support the structure of your foot. Everyone’s foot is shaped a little differently. If you are flat-footed or have a high arch, for example, make sure the shoe is designed to support that. It may be worth a trip to sports store at your local mall to have your foot measured and fitted.
- Set manageable goals for yourself. Unless your physician has indicated otherwise, you might want to start out with a daily 10-minute walk. Add 5 minutes at a time until you are up to about 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Be sure to stretch and warm up your muscles before you head out. This video offers some good pointers on how to warm up before and after walking.
- A pedometer or sports watch that measures heart rate and distance can help you track your progress.
- As your physician may have shared with you, the rule of thumb on how fast to walk is referred to as a “walking pace.” That means you have elevated breathing but can carry on a conversation.
- Watch your posture as you walk. Keep your head up and your shoulders back and relaxed. Your arms should hang comfortably at your sides.
- Find a buddy or two to walk with you. It is safer and more fun!
- If you are walking alone, be sure to bring your cell phone and a photo ID with you and to avoid walking in isolated areas.
After you’ve been walking for a few months, you can reevaluate your success and talk with your physician about increasing the distance or pace of your walking if you feel like you need more of a challenge.