A Stronger Body Can Lead to a Sharper Mind

Senior Couple on a Bike

It’s long been known that physical activity and exercise have a positive impact on overall health, especially in aging adults and seniors. An increase in physical activity can lead to an increase in mobility, which can help many adults maintain their independence for longer.

But it turns out, physical activity isn’t just beneficial to the health of your body. It’s also extremely important in maintaining a healthy mind.

In 2016, the Global Council on Brain Health met to examine the impact of physical activity on brain health and function. Experts from several fields, from internal medicine and old age psychiatry to gerontology and epidemiology, compared findings and determined that regular exercise and physical activity do lead to positive outcomes in brain functionality.

How Exercise Increases Brain Functionality

As adults age, it becomes more important for them to adopt habits that improve brain function and structure, as getting older often leads to cognitive decline. Age can often hinder attention, lead to cognitive slowness (mental reaction times) and cause a decrease in working memory (holding multiple pieces of information in the mind at once).

According to the GCBH report linked above, people who participate in purposeful exercises show beneficial changes in brain structure and function, and those who lead a physically active lifestyle have a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Purposeful exercise can include anything that gets people moving in a way that increases physical strength and endurance, such as walking, running, cycling, strength training and exercise classes. Adults can participate in these activities as an individual or as part of a group. In recent years, group exercise classes and wellness retreats have surged in popularity, and there are several targeted to aging adults.   

How You Can Become More Physically Active

Regardless of age or mobility level, there are small lifestyle changes adults can make in order to increase their daily activity level. The CDC recommends at least two and a half hours a week of moderate aerobic activity (like walking, biking or swimming) and two days of muscle-strengthening activities that work out all major muscle groups (including your legs, arms, back, abdomen, chest and shoulders).

Adults of any age and health status can find ways to be more physically active. Introducing slight changes over time can be an easy way to build up endurance and increase physical activity. Those who aren’t currently active can start by stretching and taking daily walks, while those who currently jog, swim or cycle can gradually increase their distance or pace.

Making exercise a social activity can help adults increase healthy habits and form new, beneficial friendships and relationships. Joining a gym and signing up for exercise classes are two easy ways to get in the recommended weekly exercise. Many gyms will offer group classes like yoga and Zumba that are meant for active older adults and are tailored to those with different mobility levels.

There are also a number of wellness retreats that take place across the country (and the world) that are excellent for active adults and seniors. Many of these retreats offer short weekend stays or longer events for those looking for a fully immersive experience. The beauty of these wellness retreats is that they offer a variety of events and exercises that are holistic in nature, meaning they target the body and mind. Adults can participate in spa days, water aerobics, group activities, wonderfully prepared dinners, yoga, meditation and more.

Aging adults should also make small changes to their daily routines that help them live a more physically active lifestyle every day. These can include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away when going to the store and taking up hobbies like gardening that provide a moderate amount of exercise.

A Longer, Healthier Life

Combining purposeful exercise and healthy lifestyle habits will help adults of all ages retain their independence for years to come. It isn’t necessary for adults to drastically alter their current lifestyle to reap the physical and mental benefits of exercise; they simply need to make a few tweaks that can have a larger impact on overall health.

The facts provided are for informational purposes only.  Please consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any new form of exercise.    

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