Exercise: The Effects on Senior Citizens

Posted by: The Bristal

Dear Maryellen,

My mom is 78. She’s generally healthy, but understandably, she’s a little frail these days. Yet, she insists on doing her exercise every day despite my concerns, including aerobics. Should I let her move around so much (although I wouldn’t call what she does very “high impact”)? Is there a downside here that I should be aware of? -Edith, Bayside, NY

Dear Edith,

Your mom’s story is fabulous to hear. One of the biggest problems facing seniors today is exactly the opposite; they don’t want to “get up and go” – unless it’s to the bathroom in between commercial breaks of their favorite television program. I think the fact that your mom wants to exercise is something to be commended and encouraged — so long as her doctor has cleared it, she’s exercising in a safe and open space, and she’s realistic about how vigorous her routine is. We don’t want her to fall.

The research is on her side. It’s been proven that aerobic exercise can increase the size of the brain’s hippocampus, the part that houses, among other things, memory – and this is especially true with seniors. It seems, exercise increases brain function. For the duration of one year, researchers studied 120 older adults (ages 55 to 80) who didn’t normally exercise in an eye-opening experiment. They split them into two groups: half were assigned an aerobic program and the other a weights and stretching program. They were all given MRIs before and after. As you can guess, those that did aerobics regularly demonstrated increases in hippocampus volume, while those stretching and lifting weights actually showed a decrease in volume.

The study concluded that “loss of hippocampal volume in late adulthood is not inevitable and can be reversed with moderate-intensity exercise.” These size gains can lead to enhanced cognition, as brain volume is increased. So, Edith, not only should your mom continue exercising – so that she can give her 75-year-old brain a memory and cognition boost – but you should be buying her some cute workout outfits to encourage her even more. That’s what I would suggest… along with this study, which was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So, Edith, salute your mom for me… and Jane Fonda, look out!

Maryellen McKeon

Source: McKnight’s Online; February 2, 2011

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