Active body, active mind?
We know that there are many activities which purport to reduce the risk of developing dementia, but how many of these are truly effective? Through a review of a collection of studies published in the journal Neurology, there were two general forms of exercise which stood out.
The review outlined that across both physical and cognitive activities, cardio and strength training proved most effective in reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There was a range of results, with cognitive activities such as reading and doing crossword puzzles reducing the risk by about 35% and 47% respectively. However, adults who exercised for about an hour, three times a week significantly improved their cognitive performance compared to those who did not. The benefits reaped by these participants included better processing speed and superior performance on tests that measure skills such as time management and attention span. So, why is cardio and strength training the best way to reduce the risk of developing dementia and to keep the brain young? Looked at in conjunction with similar studies, the conclusion seems to be that the more frequently you move, the healthier your brain will be, leading to greater brain volume and enhanced cognitive ability. Another key point highlighted across the studies was, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” In order to keep the grey matter in check, it is essential that you practice both cognitive and physical exercises regularly. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin if you haven’t been exercising the brain regularly, but thankfully there is a wealth of tips and tricks freely available to help you make a start. You don’t have to follow a high intensity regimen to reap the cognitive benefits of exercising regularly, even across these studies, exercises such as gentle swimming, walking and gardening were found to boost cognitive abilities. However, we don’t have to stick to traditional means of enhancing our cognition. For the technologically-minded, there are many brain training and workout apps out there, specially tailored to seniors. One app proving particularly popular amongst the boomer generation is MindMate, an all-in-one health app, which compartmentalizes different activities within it. It is an example of the the type of tool many older people would need to make a start on improving their physical health with the Workout section. In this segment of the app, there is a plethora of exercises to choose from, from strength training to daily aerobic exercise. If you’re someone who likes to live life spontaneously, the app even generates a daily workout video for you to incorporate into your routine. Additionally, there is a Games section which you can use alongside, with activities like sudoku and other bespoke games to test reaction time and processing skills. To underpin these aspects of overall health, there is a comprehensive Recipes section, with a huge range of quick and healthy meal options. Even if you are already living with dementia, or have a loved one who is, there are organizational tools like Reminders to keep your affairs in order, taking some of the stress out of managing memory loss. It has proved to be a great tool for individual users as well as are facilities across the US and beyond. Dementia, and neurodegenerative conditions in general, is still the subject of ongoing research. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is best for your health when there are so many contradicting opinions out there. However, the general rule of thumb seems to be that multipart lifestyle intervention, through diet, exercise and practising cognitive exercises, improves both physical and mental health. Taking a proactive approach to your health is vital throughout life, even more so as we approach our senior years, and one of the best things we can do to aid the process is to continue exercising both body and mind. Exercise is a great starting point to improve all aspects of health, both body and mind. Remember, even if it feels daunting, there are many tools out there to help kickstart healthy aging!