Physical activity also keeps your elderly parent’s brain fit

As your parents age, it’s still important for them to exercise. While many associate exercise with benefits to physical health, studies show it can also benefit us cognitively. A post at the New York Times describes several recent studies that outline the role exercise has in maintaining our brainpower. 

Physical activity, any physical activity

Laura Middleton is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario where one of the studies was conducted. She told the New York Times, “Our results indicate that vigorous exercise isn’t necessary [in protecting the mind]. I think that’s exciting. It might inspire people who would be intimidated about the idea of quote-unquote exercising to just get up and move.

The results of the study were found by measuring the energy expenditure and cognitive functioning of a large group of elderly adults over the course of two to five years, the newspaper reported. The physical activities of the group described to have the least cognitive impairment over the course of the study consisted of minor exercises like “walking around the block, cooking, gardening, and cleaning.” Nearly 90 percent of those with the greatest daily energy expenditure thought and remembered throughout the study just as well as they had in previous years.

Staving off dementia

The second study was conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. The senior author of the study was Jae H. Kang, assistant professor of medicine at the institution. This time physical activity was measured in women with vascular conditions. Kang told the Times that walking and light activity bought participants heading towards dementia five years of better brainpower.

Weight training and cognitive health

The third study mentioned in the Times article might mean that there’s another option besides walking and gardening to help cognitive health as we age: weight training. Scientists from the Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of British Columbia and other institutions found that light weight training changed how well older women thought and even changed how blood flowed within their brains.

The study participants incorporated lifting weights twice a week for 12 months. At the end of that period they performed markedly better on tests of mental processing than control groups who only completed balance and toning training programs. M.R.I. scans of the weight trainers showed that the parts of their brains in charge of mental processing were considerably more active compared to the control group.

So in short, get your parents off the sofa and out for a walk — it’ll not only help them maintain their physical independence, but their cognitive well-being as well.

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