It is a given that everyone needs to engage in some form of exercise to enjoy good health and physical fitness. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the connection between appropriate levels of exercise and physical health.
However, for those over the age of 40, new research suggests a strong link between exercise and brain health as well.
Exercise improves both physical and mental health for seniors.
A Look at AARP’s 2016 Healthy Aging Survey
According to AARP’s 2016 Healthy Aging Survey of 1,530 adults age 40 and up, 56 percent of respondents indicate they engage in some form of exercise weekly. However, only 34 percent are meeting recommendations calling for 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity.
While there are a number of factors that affect the ability or will to exercise, there are abundant reasons to get motivated to do so. The AARP survey reveals that those respondents who do exercise regularly rate their brain health significantly higher than non-exercisers.
Adults who exercise regularly report higher levels of improvements in their ability to solve problems, manage stress, learn new things, pay attention, and remember things in the past five years compared with people who do not regularly exercise. Significantly, among those respondents who report having problems with memory, a whopping 67 percent are not getting the recommended amount of exercise each week.
Why does this matter? According to a 2015 AARP Brain Health Survey, three-quarters of adults age 40+ are concerned about their brain health declining in the future. And 45 percent of seniors 65+ report that their ability to remember things has decreased in the last five years.
Additional Research Underscores Importance of Senior Exercise
AARP’s results add support to prior research on the connection between exercise and cognitive function for seniors. A 2013 study conducted by the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas found that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps healthy aging adults improve their memory, brain health, and physical fitness.
Lead researcher Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., notes: “The combination of physical and mental exercise may be the best health measures to improve overall cognitive brain health. We have just begun to test the upper boundaries of how we can enhance our brain’s performance into late life. To think we can alter and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our thinking and get moving at any age.”
Medicine.net reports: “Researchers have found that the fittest elders had the highest scores on tasks like coordination, scheduling, planning, and memory. And in a recent study of 1,740 adults older than 65, researchers found that the incidence of dementia in individuals who walked three or more times per week was 35 percent lower than those individuals who walked less than three days per week.”
How Much Exercise Do Seniors Need?
How much exercise is needed to reap the best results for brain health? The Medicine.net article lists the following recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association:
Aerobic Activity: To promote and maintain health, older adults need moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days each week or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days each week. Aerobic activities include such exercise as walking, jogging, dancing, biking, and swimming.
Resistance Training: Older adults will benefit from performing activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days each week. It is recommended that eight to 10 exercises be performed on two or more nonconsecutive days per week using the major muscle groups. Resistance training includes weight lifting or calisthenics.
Flexibility and Balance Training: Older adults should perform activities that maintain or increase flexibility and balance at least two days each week for at least 10 minutes each day. Stretching and yoga exercises may be beneficial.
Exercising in Assisted Living
Seniors living in assisted living communities are in a unique position to benefit from regular exercise. Many assisted living communities have facilities to accommodate a number of senior exercise options. For instance, many assisted living communities have walking tracks, gyms, and swimming pools for resident use.
Assisted living residents benefit from structured group exercise.
Additionally, assisted living communities may offer supervised exercise classes, where residents have access to trained physical therapists and personal trainers who can help ensure their safety as they engage in group exercise.
If you would like to find an assisted living community that offers such options for your loved one, please take a moment to speak to a care advisor today.